At first blush, a film about a pet might sound funny, even stupid. Heart of a Dog, Laurie Anderson’s first feature-length in 29 years, is neither. The film’s center is Anderson’s rat terrier, Lolabelle, but don’t be fooled: there’s a lot more to this piece.
Focusing on “Lola”– who “fingerpainted,” “played” the keyboard, and apparently had a Facebook page– Anderson reflects on life, death, loss, grief, and love in an emotional yet restrained, objective way that probably only she can pull off. Drawing from her experiences growing up in the Midwest, life in Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11, her dreams, and even topics she must have researched, she zigzags between personal anecdotes– both serious and goofy– and information and the topic of death. Death is clearly on her mind: she circles back to Lola, her mother, children in an intensive care burn unit where she was stuck for months as a child, and eventually her famous husband, whose presence hovers like a ghost in the love story she references– it’s fitting that he sings over the closing credits (“Turning Time Around”).
As one might (or should) expect, Heart of a Dog has strong visual and auditory sides. Visually, it’s a pastiche of drawings, paintings, animation, home movies, dramatizations, and natural scenes that blur and mix together. The soundtrack is cool, with bits and pieces of orchestrated sounds and Anderson’s soothing, robotic cadence. The effect is a dreamy, airy, semi stream of consciousness. In the end, it’s a touching elegy that struck a chord with me. Heart of a Dog is an art film that manages to be accessible without losing its impact.
(Music Box) B+