Streaming Review

Stray review – vibrant ode to Istanbul’s street dogs

Elizabeth Lo's inspired "dogumentary" follows a group of semi-feral canines as they roam the city in search of human connection

Zeytin was born to be on camera. With her soulful eyes and gleaming, tan-colored coat, she's the kind of dog people stop to observe on the street, complementing her healthy look. In another world, she might be the dog of countless commercials or even movies, with a natural ability to position herself perfectly within a frame. She's also a stray – just one of more than 10,000 dogs who live nomadic lives on the streets on Istanbul, a result of a law that prevents the city's dogs from being captured or killed.

Stray, Elizabeth Lo's unconventional and poetic documentary (or is that “dogumentary”?), at first sounds like a gimmick: a vérité piece, shot at just below waist level as to emulate a dog's-eye view. But as Lo's low-slung camera takes to the Turkish streets, allowing us to observe these animals as though part of the pack ourselves, we quickly realise how her freewheeling approach allows for an equally empathetic portrait of both man and beast. Think of these dogs as your local tour guides, who know the city like the back of their paws. And how good it is, at a time of global lockdown, to get out and about.

Zeytin is the undoubtably the star, beautiful and gentle, with an easy-going temperament that endears her to anyone she meets – and one that puts the collared mutts we encounter to shame. But she's in good company. There's also Nazir, another female stray, who frequently rides shotgun, and also an adorable puppy, Kartal, whose azure blue eyes have managed to melt the stoic heart of a local building site manager, the unofficial and self-appointed human guardian of this pack.

Making their way through Istanbul's vibrant streets, picking at bones, passing landmarks, and dodging cars, we overhear snippets of conversation: an argument between a couple; the voices of those attending a women's protest rally. All the time, the dog's lives continually intersect with a group of young Syrian refugees living out of crumbled buildings and on building sites. As they find kindred spirits in Zeytin and the gang, we notice how these humans are treated with less respect than the dogs. The film's title, we realise, can be read on two levels.

But there's no deeply political angle here: we're mere observers to these dog day afternoons, captured over a period of two years and edited down to just 74 minutes. Several of the sequences might conjure memories of Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó's White God, with its packs spilling out into the streets as though trying to reclaim the city. But these mutts don't want the world; just to make it through the night. Stray is slight, but warm and life-affirming – what a treat it is to be embedded with these brilliant underdogs.

Stray is now available to rent or buy on various digital platforms.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

After Yang review – tear-jerking sci-fi lays bare the heart of an AI

Kogonada’s second feature is an exquisitely acted, low-key drama that makes the technical into something distinctly human

Comets review – short but fatally dull Georgian romance

Tamar Shavgulidze’s unpredictable tale of a past relationship barely scrapes feature length, but will test your patience anyway

Memory Box review – visually inventive nostalgia trip lacks real drama

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige helm an intriguing but featherlight film about a teenager who delves into her mother's past

Nightmare Alley review – Guillermo del Toro’s devilishly thrilling neo-noir

This monstrously grim psychodrama brings a bizarre world to visceral life, fronted by an astonishing turn from Bradley Cooper


Man of the People: Gene Kelly and An American in Paris

To coincide with the classic musical's 70th anniversary, Lilia Pavin-Franks looks back on the complex duality of its leading man

Hidden Gems of 2021: 30 Films You Might Have Missed

From quirky documentaries to unclassifiable dramas, we highlight the films that might have slipped beneath your radar this past year

25 Best Films of 2021: Individual Ballots

Interested in who voted for what? You'll find the full list of individual ballots for this year's best of 2021 list right here

25 Best Films of 2021

As another cinematic year draws to a close, our writers choose their favourite films, from miraculous musicals to subversive westerns