Review: DogFriend (Hundefreund)

Directed by Maissa Lihedheb and written by lead actor Lamin Leroy Gibba, a casual hook-up takes an unexpected turn in this meditation on race, politics and history. Also starring: Til Schindler.

This is one of those short films which you genuinely can’t predict, but it brilliantly also doesn’t rely on needing to be bizarre or outlandish, it only slightly stretches the lines of reality, if that. It starts out very much like any other date scenario, our protagonist nervously awaiting his date. Once he does turn up, Malik (Gibba) has the perfect mix of flirtation and babbling, giving off a slightly insecure vibe, one which perfectly sets up the progression of the story. Whereas Phillip (Schindler) gives off a nonchalance and egotistical confidence, with a touch of arrogance. It’s quite the typical pairing for a gay romance but there’s nothing else typical about this story as it moves forward. What it descends into is a tense, smart and elegant dialogue between the two, creating a dense atmosphere that is utterly gripping. Touching upon such relevant points in a pointed and purposeful manner, with a perfectly enthralling turning of the tables. It’s an interesting and grounded yet biting exploration of race, presented in a very realistic manner.

Visually it’s equally matched, there’s a modern style to the direction. It tries out a number of different angles, some slightly obscure but each feeding into the fact that this isn’t your average date film. It’s also wonderfully contrasted with the somewhat old-fashioned design of the apartment, which adds a great dose of colour. There’s some particularly well framed shots at work here, there’s a great deal of thought gone into positioning of the characters, especially in the latter moments. The editing also helps to really enhance that intensity switch as the story opens up. It doubles down on Malik’s strength and sharpness, as well as pushing Phillip’s turn to the slightly manic, evasive and his penchant for denial.

None of which would really work well without two strong actors at the helm but DogFriend has no worries there. Lamin Leroy Gibba does ultimate justice to his words, not only does he provide a superb script, he also brings it to life with a terrific tenacity and a complex performance. The way that he portrays Malik could be interpreted as a form of subtle deception but at the same time could just be considered a layered, complicated character. Til Schindler provides a great sparring partner, a classic case of bravado and privilege creating a bubble which begs to be burst.

DogFriend (Hundefreund) is smart, superbly shot and satisfyingly tense. Maissa Lihedheb’s direction is sharp with excellent framing and thoughtful execution. Lamin Leroy Gibba’s writing and performance are both brilliant, the dialogue is absolutely perfect and his performance is complex and thrilling. There’s an immense amount of talent at work here, what they’ve created is entertaining and gripping but also has something to say.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10

Selected as part of BFI Flare 2022

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