Parque de Los Reyes in Santiago, Chile, features inviting green patches, concrete skate ramps, and two vibrant communities: one human, one dog. Its human inhabitants are mostly heard and not seen in Bettina Perut & Ivan Osnovikoff’s charming documentary Los Reyes; they skate together and gossip together, sharing foul-mouthed complaints and incidental facts about their lives outside the park. But as the humans bicker, two of the park’s stray canine inhabitants quietly rule the place, and Los Reyes is a testament to the beauty of those non-human animals who prowl our landscapes with soul and sass, even as they go mostly unnoticed by their human compatriots.
Fútbol, a sweetly silent black mutt, and Chola, a more vocal brown Lab, spend their days and nights together, often dozing in one place, then moving to another location for a deeper sleep. Perut and Osnovikoff are content to allow their lens to lazily linger on the mostly uneventful hours these friends spend together. They don’t anthropomorphize these two charming stars; instead they invite audiences into the long lulls of their lives, sometimes spiked with moments of barking at wheels on concrete, but most often spent simply being, allowing time to pass.
Though the hard facts of each dog’s existence is never made clear, Perut and Osnovikoff’s intention is always clear. Instead of a straightforward documentary about human skaters or even about human relationships with stray dogs, this film is as close to a dog’s eye view of the urban world as audiences will probably ever come. Audiences will want to know them even more deeply, but the film makes no easy assumptions about these animals, a probably maddening approach for anyone wanting to project human reality onto non-human creatures. By alternating between long distance views and closeups of the dogs’ dirty paws, matted fur, and penetrating gazes, Los Reyes presents these canines as they are, without agenda, attempting no commentary that would paint them as heroes or monsters or objects of pity or admiration.
Los Reyes’ running time might try the patience of some viewers, as the fact that nothing really happens seems to be the main point. But getting lost in the daily doings of these dogs has the quietly revolutionary potential to coax human beings out of their own perspective and urge them to view the world through the eyes of basically unknowable beings. It is natural to try to craft narratives and plots when watching animal behavior, and the images presented in Los Reyes definitely stir such desires, but this makes Fútbol and Chola that much more confoundingly enchanting. They don’t ask for the audience’s attention. The camera simply captures their existence, inviting human viewers to recognize feelings that seem to appear (like jealousy, love, anger, fear, loss, and grief), without ever confirming these assumed impressions.
There are moments throughout this contemplative film when clear connections between human behavior and canine behavior can be drawn, especially toward the film’s melancholy end, but even when it seems quite obvious what is happening, no human viewer can really be certain. There is, after all, even more than a language barrier between our two species, a fact that adds an unforgettable layer to a film that invites its audience to understand that all critters are deserving of respect, compassion, and attention, even when we cannot easily translate the sounds of their spirits.