Pasatiempo - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Abatemarco

Artist and per­former Lau­rie An­der­son’s new film, which chan­nels her autobiographical reflections on her re­la­tion­ship with her dog Lo­la­belle, is at once heart­felt, mov­ing, ten­der, and haunt­ing. It’s an im­pres­sion­is­tic film, much of which she shot on an iPhone, com­bin­ing home movie footage with reen­act­ments, an­i­ma­tion, draw­ings, pho­to­graphs, and her own orig­i­nal score. Though it is os­ten­si­bly about Lo­la­belle, a rat ter­rier, at times, Heart of a Dog seems more an al­le­gory of life and death.

The film be­gan as part of a se­ries of short doc­u­men­taries pro­duced by the French-Ger­man com­pany Arte for Euro­pean tele­vi­sion, and from there it evolved into a fea­ture-length film. Arte ap­proached An­der­son about do­ing a per­sonal es­say film. “Per­sonal es­say film? What is that? I don’t even know what that is,” she told Pasatiempo. In the be­gin­ning, she wasn’t sure how to be­gin. “The pro­ducer was at a show I was do­ing in Paris where I was talk­ing about Lo­la­belle, and he said, ‘Why don’t you just do some sto­ries like your sto­ries about your dog — you can put those in.’ I’m a short story writer, really, and that made a lot of sense to me. I thought, ‘What other sto­ries can link to this one and where could it go?’ ”

The film is short­listed for an Acad­emy Award in the Doc­u­men­tary Fea­ture cat­e­gory and screens at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts on Fri­day, Dec. 11, and Satur­day, Dec. 12. An­der­son will be present for Q& A ses­sions on both dates.

At the start of the film, An­der­son re­counts a dream in which she gives birth to a fully grown Lo­la­belle, af­ter hav­ing placed the live dog in­side her womb for just that pur­pose. This can be seen as an al­lu­sion to the artis­tic process, but it also works as a ref­er­ence to cre­ation it­self. But it is also some­thing far more per­sonal, ex­press­ing the deep con­nec­tion be­tween

the artist and her dog, along with the de­sire to tran­scend bar­ri­ers be­tween species. “Peo­ple who don’t spend a lot of time with an­i­mals, I think, are a lit­tle bit sus­pi­cious of that re­la­tion­ship,” she said. “But a re­la­tion­ship with a per­son and an an­i­mal can be very amaz­ing and in­tense, and just to jump across that species line and try to com­mu­ni­cate with them can be really pro­found. A lot of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion is, let’s face it, kind of on the su­per­fi­cial side. How many times do you look into some­one else’s eyes?”

Heart of a Dog is an ex­per­i­men­tal film — a med­i­ta­tion on ac­tual peo­ple, places, and events. But it is also a philo­soph­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of the mores of con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety, and part of it deals with Amer­ica’s com­pro­mis­ing of its civil lib­er­ties in the wake of 9/11. She deftly moves the film’s fo­cus from the per­sonal sphere to the pub­lic, from the point of view of one who was hor­ri­fied by the events of 9/11 but also dis­heart­ened by the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse. She’s bru­tally hon­est in her in­dict­ment of the Pa­triot Act and its ex­hor­ta­tion to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to re­port on their neigh­bors.

The film’s nar­ra­tive, re­cited by An­der­son, segues freely from one topic to the next, and drifts eas­ily, fol­low­ing a sort of dream logic. “Prob­a­bly the hard­est thing in the film was making it — it was un­like other things that I make,” she said. “For ex­am­ple, when you make a record you can make 12 songs, and they only have to be beau­ti­ful, have a per­son­al­ity, be hummable, dan­ger­ous, and gor­geous, but they don’t have to re­late to each other. They don’t have to tell a story. The things I like in a film are when you feel like you’ve gone some­where.”

The film’s vi­gnettes are of­ten based on mem­o­ries from An­der­son’s own past, such as her Mid­west­ern child­hood or her mother’s deathbed speech, pro­vid­ing a pic­ture that con­tra­dicts the im­age of An­der­son as an avant­garde ur­ban­ite. We catch glimpses here and there of other play­ers in her New York cir­cle, in­clud­ing mu­si­cian Lou Reed (1942-2013), whom she mar­ried in 2008, and the artist and film­maker Ju­lian Schn­abel, whom she humbly presents as her neigh­bor the painter.

But An­der­son brings it back to Lo­la­belle through­out, mov­ing from reflections on the ab­sur­di­ties of hu­man ex­is­tence to mo­ments in a dog’s life, es­tab­lish­ing a com­pelling, and at times riv­et­ing, con­trast. “Dogs are very skilled in terms of em­pa­thy and that’s my goal, to try to fig­ure out how to be em­pa­thetic. That’s why the dog-hu­man thing keeps tog­gling back and forth.” An­der­son draws on Ti­betan Bud­dhist spir­i­tu­al­ity, de­scrib­ing the bardo, or tran­si­tional state, be­tween death and re­birth, as de­tailed in The Ti­betan Book of the Dead. She nar­rates what the jour­ney to the af­ter­life might have been like when Lo­la­belle died, en­ter­ing that in-be­tween state for a pe­riod of 49 days be­fore re­birth or a release from the cy­cles of ex­is­tence. But Lo­la­belle’s life (and death) are also a metaphor for some­thing more univer­sal. Her bardo ex­pe­ri­ence is not so dif­fer­ent from a sea­son of change in a hu­man’s life. The 49 days in the bardo are a pro­logue to a new in­car­na­tion and a tale that’s yet to be writ­ten. “The real sub­ject is sto­ries and what hap­pens when you tell them too of­ten or forget them, or when some­body else tells your story, or when you are telling your story and you can’t use lan­guage. I tried all kinds of ways to tell sto­ries in this: through other peo­ple’s mouths, through my own, through writ­ten things, through quoted things, through for­get­ful­ness, al­most like a song. It’s not really a film about me and my dog. That part I know.”


Heart of a Dog screen­ing and Q& A with Lau­rie An­der­son 7 p.m. Fri­day, Dec. 11, and Satur­day, Dec. 12 Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 1050 Old Pe­cos Trail $20 and $50; call 505-982-1338 for tick­ets and in­for­ma­tion

Dogs are very skilled in terms of em­pa­thy

and that’s my goal, to try to fig­ure out how to be em­pa­thetic. — Lau­rie An­der­son

A lot of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion is, let’s face it, kind of on the su­per­fi­cial side.

How many times do you look into some­one else’s eyes?

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