The Copernican revolution of the point of view is evident from the very first two titles: they’re upside down.
We see them upside down because Keith, the child who in the opening scene of Grill Dog is watching television, is upside down.
The power of the subjective, from this very first directorial gesture that is almost a wink, overflows the containing limits of the frame, and invades the outside of the package. It infiltrates in the spaces of postproduction and permeates even the very meaning of the overall architecture. You can see it even before the image itself, before the projection, in the abstract and unseen times of its conception, in the patience of the times of its writing, in the work of selection of the cast and, therefore, in the work with actors, with spaces, with lights and colors.
Grill Dog is not simply a film shot at child height. Beginning from this first shot, the short shows us how much it wants to be a child itself, without renouncing, though, to the adult eye.
It is a film that defines the Copernican revolution of looking at childhood based on Korczak’s principle, that if we want to see the world through the eyes of children we should not grow short, but rather ought to get on our tiptoes, and hope to reach the height of a child that far exceeds our miserable lack of imagination.
Grill Dog’s children are children of a border culture. American, easy going yet fragile. Forced to find their own way through the incomprehensible geography of affections where the maps never marks with an X the true location of the treasure.
They are left in the hotel room, while the adults go out to have fun, but they are curious enough to sneak out as soon as they feel the first temptation. They are capable of loving their parents, who fleet by maybe a little ‘too distractedly’, but with the candid conviction that they love television ‘a wee bit more’ because, after all, it is their only real playmate.
The adults are abstract figures that exceed the lower limits of the frame. They are passing shadows of which you can only make out the feet and perhaps the legs. They are voices giving commands that are little more than sounds, kind of like the croaking of horns that you could hear in the Peanuts animations, a borrowed image, which Grill Dog later supplements with a sudden surge of poetry.
So the two little protagonist brothers, as soon as their parents close the door, get ready for an adventure. They do not need much. They stuff a backpack with snacks, drinks and even a bottle of beer, so they can feel a bit ‘bigger’ and go far away, by bus first and then on foot, to see the falls.
The elder boy, Collin is the one who sees this little trip as a chance to peek at the adult world: he wants to see topless girls, discover the secret world of boobs, begin, in short, to smell from a distance a little ‘sex.
The younger follows along just because he doesn’t want to be left alone in the room. And also because the fate of the little petulant brothers is to stick like crabs to their siblings, a sign this of a twisted, but in the end balanced relationship.
While they are on their way they encounter a dog, tied to a stick nailed to the ground, near a house where at the moment there is no one, and they bring it with them. Because the dog is sociable. Because it looks like a dog that maybe they had. Because they try, ultimately, to deceive the end of childhood that is knocking on the door and seems ever closer.
But the dog is soon hit by a passing car that doesn’t even stop: another sign of an adult world that does not even look at those whom it tramples, and this is for the two boys the beginning of a slow agony that is filled with pain.
And if to Keith the dog’s death is still something he can manage, the end of a toy, a death that he can face, for Collin it is, quite on the contrary, a reflection of the end of his being a child and a first step, uncovered and uncompromised, into the adult world.
Grill Dog begins slowly and with a few light marks and then grows into a musical Adagio, with the same utopic charge, full of the nostalgia and magic of a fugue that only Schubert knew how to put into the slow movements of his masterful sonatas.
It grows in the ability to win the confidence of these two children who eat up each scene a little at a time to dig a warm place in the hearts of every spectator. It increases in the precision with which is described the inevitable unfolding of every magic spell, when fairy tales slowly lose altitude and settle like dust shaken by the wind over an isolated dirt road.
And with each passing second it is filled with meaning without getting lost in void rhetoric, but letting the feelings speak with their own language, free of any compulsion.
Grill Dog‘s impeccable direction is not so much in the capacity to translate into images such a short story without feeling the need to inflate it, but in the ability to keep one step away from the actors, on tiptoe, respectfully awaiting the revelation of the moment.
And the final shot of the children who are waiting for the return of their parents, while the little one is eating an ice cream and Collin, now forever an adult, is staring at the void in search of an impossible consolation, has a mythic strength and epiphanic power that I believe has remained unexpressed, since the times of De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette or Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups.
Because being able to tell so much with so little is a very rare miracle.
Translated from italian
(Grill Dog); Directed by: Corey Aumiller; screenplay: Corey Aumiller, Andy Siara; cinematography: Benjamin Dell; editing: Salvador Pérez García; music: Miles Bergsma; cast: Britain Dalton, Toby Grey; production: June Bug; origin: USA, 2016; runtime: 17’