The Dog Paddle
Starring Manwel Kelb, Eamon Madra and Vicente Perro. Directed by Sofia Koira. First screening: October 2; repeat screening October 4 at the Park Cinema. 72 minutes.
The Dog Paddle, which stars two of The Park’s best known Canine comedic actors (Kelb and Madra) as well as newcomer Vicente Perro, hinges on a familiar Park issue: two rival Canine swimmers are vying for the opportunity to compete in the first-ever Dog paddle event of the Interspecial Summer Games. After the qualifying final is cancelled due to a vicious storm, the athletes are told that both their names have been entered in the “big race.” What Kelb and Madra’s characters realize too late is that the big race they’ve been entered in is a different kind of Dog paddle race: one that involves two Dogs, two paddles, and a canoe.
The reaction of the two characters to the news that they must cooperate with each other rather than compete (and do so in a canoe) nets us some priceless physical comedy — the sort that both actors are famous for.
But it’s what happens next that elevates The Dog Paddle to comedic art: the film slows down just long enough to allow us to see both Dogs in a different light. In this case, it’s the twilight before the big race, when they finally decide they’d better talk strategy if they’re going to have any chance at all of winning.
In the hands of another director, this scene might have turned the film into a tragicomedy. But in the hands of the skilled and savvy Sofia Koira, who is quite a hoot herself, the poignancy becomes so off-balance that it rights the canoe and steers the rest of the film to its conclusion, which I won’t spoil for you here.
Who would have thought that a send-up of the Canine Athletic Association’s bid to reinstate the Dog paddle as a competitive swimming stroke could be so funny? Certainly not this critic, but the surprise was well worth the humility with which I will be forced to live for some time.