Dogs lend a hand in Dutch doc Buddy

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      A documentary by Heddy Honigmann. In Dutch, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      Recent studies suggest that dogs have changed, evolutionarily, in the more than 20,000 years that they’ve been shacking up with human beings. Certainly, we have changed too, at least in our expectations of what these canid critters can do for us.

      The new Dutch documentary Buddy narrows its research to just six special tail-waggers, each of which expands our conception of man, woman, and child’s best friend.

      Veteran docmaker Heddy Honigmann is stingy with context, only gradually acquainting us with our subjects—service animals that act as extra limbs for their physically limited masters.

      Of the barking heads seen here, the most striking animal is Kaiko, an off-white labradoodle who helps her paraplegic human shop, dress, retrieve pages from the printer, and—most startlingly—open the fridge door and grab items on command.

      The most enigmatic is Mister, a big brown creature of similar demeanour (none of the breeds are discussed) who tends to the emotional needs of an Afghanistan War veteran with bad injuries and even worse PTSD. To see Mister shift into extra-alert status as soon as the man’s wife leaves his side is to witness empathy in its most rigorous application.

      Honigmann could have included some clues as to how these fine animals are selected and trained.

      We don’t get much background on the people, either, unless they divulge it.

      The liveliest human is Edith van der Meulen, a spry woman in her late 80s who lost her eyesight to a German bomb in the Second World War. In a nifty twist, she has had professional portraits made of all her guide dogs since the 1950s, even though she cannot see them herself.

      The film has plenty of idiosyncratic asides, but there’s a certain sameness to the presentation that makes you wish the Peruvian-born director, well known for ferreting out telling ironies, would have dug deeper or perhaps gone broader in her overview of these symbiotic relationships.

      One side benefit to Buddy is that it gives you a dog’s-eye view of suburbs, parks, and byways of Amsterdam that tourists rarely visit.

       

       

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