Dogborn shows us that no matter how low a position you feel you are in life, there is always another level, and even just to escape your own situation, there is usually the cruellest of prices. The question is whether your humanity is worth risking to get there. Isabella Carbonell has made an impactful first feature film that stays with you.
Homeless and invisible – the Twins are constantly struggling to survive. Sister is a ticking time bomb; her screams are loud, while Brother doesn’t speak but rather screams inwardly. Finally, their dream of a real home leads to an unexpected job opportunity that sounds simple enough: Transport goods from point A to point B. But a rift between the siblings occurs when they find out what they are transporting. Over the course of two intense days, the twins are forced to make a life-altering decision.
Straight out of the bat, Dogborn is an excellent film; you feel everything our main characters do, and their incredible conflict never wavers as we see them desperately looking for an alternative. Filmmaker Isabella Carbonell ensures that there is a constant unease present in Dogborn. Our characters are on edge, the quandary they are presented with is uncomfortable, and Maja Dennhag’s camera never settles once for a static shot; even if characters are just sitting talking, the camera is slowly moving, roving around.
It typifies our character’s thoughts; while they may be still, their minds are racing, constantly thinking of what they can do next. It is an excellent choice that allows for the dark tone to be set. Interestingly we are continually given the focus on the female side of all these events. While we have male characters, usually, it would be Brother leading the film instead of Sister. This opens the film tremendously, and it allows Dogborn to become all the more impactful.
Sibling love is key to the success of the film. Brother and Sister have such an inescapable bond with one another. Sister takes on the mantle of carer for the duo to make sure her brother gets through whatever challenges they face, be it whispering a bedtime story of how they were born and raised, to even putting on some music for him so that he can sleep better. We even have little moments, like sister pulling down Brothers hood when they are indoors.
These minuscule glimpses tell us so much. All she does is look out for him in one way or another. We see this heavily echoed later with two other characters; their sibling bonds are something that can never be broken. By keeping that locked in throughout the film, when things (somehow) turn even uglier for our characters, we can feel even more for them. Not only for their safety but what damage it would do to the other sibling. They are two people, but their souls are one.
Every character hits it out of the park here, be it Silvana Imam’s conflicted sister, a woman who, while staying strong for her brother, has her own troubles and that tough façade soon crumbles when too much of her humanity has been taken. Of course, she wants to do the right thing, but at the same time, her bond is with her brother; she must make sure he is okay above all else, which sometimes means doing the unthinkable as a person.
Equally, Philip Oros’s performance as the silent brother is just as strong here. A completely different performance from that of Imam, he shows us all his emotions and thinking in his mind on his face. It is a tough ask, but his emotive talents come through here tremendously well. Emma Lu and Mia Liu devastate you in their own very different ways. Emma Lu’s character’s monologue to her sister wrecks you. Showing us that there is always another more horrible place we can be forced into than what we ever imagined. There Mia Liu takes a simpler but equally effective approach to getting to your heart.
This is what Carbonell wants us to feel in her film, devastation, to shake us to our core. Yet humanity is the second key theme here in Dogborn, and she makes sure that we never lose the sense of it, even in its worst moments of the film; she ensures that we have moments where our characters can be human. We have Sister portrayed as the anti-hero. Someone who can only dig down at the bottom for so long before she must make a stand. Her unpredictability allows us to feel for her as she battles with what to do. Does she focus on the person she loves the most, or does she step out and do more?
Dogborn is fantastic and a real statement of intention from Isabella Carbonell; she has excellent support from all her cast, especially Silvana Imam, who looks like she was on the verge of a breakdown in every scene. This is a film to be experienced. It may be a very uncomfortable experience, but a worthwhile one all the same.
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