Heart of a Dog ★★★½

[7]

Anderson's Year of Magical Thinking, essentially, although her inimitable style -- somehow simultaneously plainspoken and oblique -- is miles from Didion's crisp patrician prose. There are fairly obvious influences in terms of how Anderson has constructed this, her first non-concert film. Chris Marker is the clearest point of contact, but Heart of a Dog is so fundamentally different from, say, Sans soleil or even The Case of the Grinning Cat that the comparison occludes as much as it reveals.

This is probably, I think, because where Marker came to filmmaking from photography and image-thought, with his writing a close second, Anderson is a musician through and through. The spaciousness of Dog, as opposed to the density of Marker's films, certainly leads to greater accessibility, but I think that's a byproduct of Anderson's sense of cadence, her understanding that notes are a part of the symphony, but so are rests. This means that her ideas have room to move around each other, to hover for awhile, before the film shifts gears.

This openness ultimately makes Heart of a Dog feel a bit more like a Laurie Anderson album, with a deluxe visual accompaniment, than a piece of cinema per se. But the deftness with which images and ideas are woven together makes such a distinction somewhat academic. The use of home movie footage of Anderson's late rat terrier Lolabelle is an organizing refrain more than a definitive topic, and in this respect Anderson is clearly operating in the Jonas Mekas vein, selecting an anchor point around which the wonders and complications of daily life can centripetally whirl.

What is perhaps most surprising in all of this is Anderson's rather strong focus on Buddhism in the second half of the film, from her visual contemplation of Lolabelle hanging out in the Bardo to the story about the passing of Gordon Matta-Clark. Interestingly, this Buddhist sensibility is subtly reflected in some of Anderson's visual choices, from her use of dense forest imagery (very Apichatpong) to the frequent shots of rain dripping down windows (a particularly Dorskian maneuver).

As the Lolabelle story extends to a wider consideration of loss, particularly the death of Anderson's mother ("Thank you for having me."), these abstractions give way to more home movie footage, ending with Lolabelle, elderly and blind, playing on the beach with her masters. It is only then that Anderson herself begins to appear, and that the ghostly presence who has been haunting the entire film -- Anderson's late husband Lou Reed -- is glimpsed, seated on the sand in the background, smiling. Heart of a Dog implicitly invites us to consider how much of what Anderson shares is obliquely about her process of mourning for Reed, and how much is typically plainspoken, telling it exactly like it is.