Film FestivalsMovie ReviewsWFF 2018: The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova Review

Keith NoakesDecember 1, 2018

Note to self: Watch more Canadian films.

Synopsis: On a cold winter night, estranged siblings Sarah and Aaron Cotler arrive at an empty train station in Dombrova, Poland. With their only available ride being a silent Driver, they embark on a quest to fulfil their dying grandmother’s wish – find, dig up, and bring home the bones of her favourite childhood dog, Peter. While navigating the many obstacles and colourful characters they encounter on their journey, Sarah and Aaron must come to terms with their own demons and the issues they have with each other. (Ezeqial Productions)

Starring: Katherine Fogler, Douglas Nyback, and Doroftei Anis

Writer: Michael Whatling

Director: Zack Bernbaum

Rating: n/a

Running Time: 102mins


Fish out of water stories have existed throughout the history of film. Now this new film, with a Canadian twist, is a double fish out of water story while also a touching family drama. The story here was about a pair of estranged siblings named Sarah (Fogler) and Aaron Cotler (Nyback) who must travel to the rural Polish town of Dombrova to fulfil their dying grandmother’s wish, bringing home the bones of her favourite childhood dog, so she can be buried with it. Finding the dog’s remains would be easier said than done as they not only faced the wintery countryside of Dombrova but also its many eccentric characters.

The film was at its best whenever it focused on the quest for the remains as the other subplots were nowhere near as interesting. They may have been estranged but what they had in common was their undeniable love for their grandmother. Though the Cotler’s relationship was quite clear-cut, the film got a little awkward when going deeper with these characters. Luckily, it wasn’t for long. They may have started off estranged, however, they grew closer over the course of the film in a very compelling way. Sarah and Aaron were extremely fun to watch together through their many ups and downs.

It was through the siblings’ struggles that we saw the clear contrast between each of them with the calm and collected Sarah acting as the straight man to the arguably neurotic Aaron. Each had their moments while in Dombrova but Sarah clearly handled the much different culture better than Aaron. There were plenty of hilarious moments that came from it. For the most part, the film was Sarah and Aaron’s but the only characters that made an impression was their nameless driver (Anis) and her son Bartek (Stefan Vizireanu). The driver was a very large and intimidating woman who didn’t speak and Bartek was her interpreter and a wisecracking teen with some hilarious lines aided by his deadpan delivery.

Ultimately, the acting was the best part of the film and made up for a lot of the inconsistent story and kept it watchable. Fogler and Nyback as Sarah and Aaron Cotler respectively were so compelling and fun to watch here due to their excellent chemistry, making them a believable pair of siblings. Each had their own interesting quirks that worked very well together and their comedic timing was great as well. In a non-verbal performance, Anis was hilarious as the driver, effectively relying on her imposing presence. Vizireanu’s Bartek was definitely a scene-stealer who benefited from the script and direction.

Overall, this was a good dramedy albeit inconsistent with many familiar story beats that worked more often than not. Despite that, some beautiful cinematography, featuring Romania masquerading as Poland, and pair of excellent lead performances by Katherine Fogler and Douglas Nyback and their great chemistry make it a compelling watch and one of the better Canadian film offerings.

Score: 8.5/10

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