Tribeca 2024: The Dog Thief (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 22, 2024)

The future doesn’t look so bright for orphaned, semi-literate working class teenager Martin (Franklin Aro). Cruelly ridiculed by his bourgeois schoolmates, Martin ekes out a meager living as a shoeshine boy on the streets of La Paz and is only afforded lodging by the good graces of his late mother’s friend, who works as a maid in the spacious home of an ailing widow. Martin’s most loyal shoeshine customer is well-to-do tailor Mr. Novoa (Alfredo Castro). Novoa is an empty-nester who spends his off-hours training and pampering his prized German Shepherd.

One day, Martin has a sudden brainstorm for a get-rich-quick scheme; he will kidnap Mr. Novoa’s dog and then enlist his best bud to “find” it and collect the reward. As Martin ingratiates himself into insular Mr. Novoa’s life (initially as part of the scheme), an unexpected bond develops between the two, greatly complicating Martin’s not so-masterminded caper.

Reminiscent of P. T. Anderson’s Hard Eight, writer-director Vinko Tomičić Salinas’ film makes excellent use of the La Paz locales, rendered in a decidedly neorealist style (not so surprising, given the title’s wordplay on Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves). Keep an eye on this filmmaker.

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