Sarah (Katherine Fogler) and Aaron (Douglas Nyback) Colter are estranged Jewish Canadian siblings whose lives have taken them down vary different paths. While each have their own set of problems and emotional hurdles to overcome, the they agree to come together to attempt to grant their dying grandmother her final wish.
Traveling to a rural village in Poland, Sarah and Aaron must locate the remains of their grandmother’s beloved pet dancing dog from her childhood home. While the task may seem simple on the surface, much has changed in the region since their grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, was taken from her home and forced into a Nazi labour camp at age 15. Aided by a mysterious taxi driver (Doroftei Anis) who never speaks, the siblings find themselves navigating cultural differences, quirky characters and the personal demons that have caused a wedge between them.
The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova wraps itself in the familiar cloak of a fish out of water road movie, but it slowly disrobes to reveal that there is something much more nuanced underneath. While director Zack Bernbaum fills out his film with odd and humorous villagers for Sarah and Aaron to interact with, one never gets the sense that he is laughing at them. Bernbaum’s genuine affection for the characters in the film, and the predicaments they find themselves in, frequently shines through. This is especially true as he methodically shows the evolution of Sarah and Aaron over the course of the film.
Through the squabbling protagonists Bernbaum uses comedy to ease the viewer into deeper questions about how history, addiction and legacy reshape family bonds. Much like a soft piece of clay, which can be ripped apart and put back together again, the siblings must learn to accept and appreciate the new forms their relationship takes. Part of this learning includes understanding the greater significance of their grandmother’s experience.
One of the subtle, but effective, aspects of The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova is the way the grandmother, who the viewer does not see outside of a quick flashback, becomes a substantial character in the film. Her spirit and history permeate the heart of the film. Bernbaum uses her as a symbol for why it is important to share our experiences, even the horrific ones, down through the generations. In emphasizing the importance of the past, the film finds strength and hope for the future.
The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova is a crowd-pleaser filled with wit and genuine emotion. You will love these characters flaws and all.
Thursday, March 21, 9:45 PM, Scotiabank Theatre