“THE DANCING DOGS OF DOMBROVA”
A Grandmother’s Final Wis
Wanting to bring a little bit of joy to their dying grandmother, a brother and sister from Canada go to Poland to find the remains of their grandmother’s dog. They face the heritage that was left behind, the strain of confronting emotions with siblings, and the desire to escape into fleeting moments of happiness.
Sarah (Katherine Fogler) and Aaron (Douglas Nyback) — as distant but familial. They argue with one another, find common ground, and reveal a lot of truths they were not aware existed. As they head to find their grandmother’s dog’s remains, their relationship unravels and grows stronger because of it.
There are quirky characters hiding away in each city and village of Poland. The culture and traditions feel embedded in the film and this becomes a peculiar road trip movie with ideas that impress more in theory than execution.
Their grandmother abandoned her dog when the Nazis invaded Poland and now she wishes to be buried with the bones.. Much of the film is inspired by director Zack Bernbaum’s grandmother, who is a Holocaust survivor. (In fact, Bernbaum’s real 98-year-old granny acted in the movie as the ailing grandmother).
The siblings find themselves surrounded by the strange customs of the Polish village. A cab driver that never speaks, a teen translator who describes himself as a “human detective” and Polish mobsters are just some of the characters that aid or block their quests.
There’s also a quiet sense of surrealism to the film. The siblings are the most bundled up to face the freezing temperatures while the Dombrova natives only wear one or two layers. The film lightly uses absurdist humor and nothing is ever quite what it seems and very few things go according to plan.
The relationship between the Cotler siblings propels the film. The two know exactly what buttons to press, how to cheer each other up and what the other is willing to do for their quest. Through the journey, the complexities of the siblings’ personalities are gradually revealed. Aaron is an overly serious bureaucrat that memorizes statistics and numbers for any situation, while Sarah is a carefree and easygoing alcoholic.
We do not only watch brother and sister find the remains of a dead dog; we see that they are part of a larger whole. Bernbaum focused heavily on creating the right tone for the movie, because he wanted to make sure the audience could feel what Aaron and Sarah go through. Subsequently, there’s an almost oppressive sense of coldness throughout the movie that has nothing to do with the location.
As Aaron and Sarah wander a frozen wasteland, they find that their presence in this odd town isn’t particularly welcome, something that brings out both the worst and best of the siblings.