Une Vie de Chiens/A Life with Dogs
By Michko Netchak (2000) (with English subtitles)
This short documentary film was a great success at the Venice Film Festival in 2000. It was shown in the little cinema l’Archipel in the Boulevard de Strasbourg, Paris, as part of the Serbian Film Festival at the end of June, 2007, which was where I saw it.
It portrays the daily life of a young man, Vladimir Vukovic, who looks after stray dogs in surroundings of idyllic natural beauty, in Bosnia. He talks in a quiet and matter-of-fact way about his present, and the circumstances of his past, that brought him to this unusual way of life.
He was born in 1970 by the beautiful Drina river in Bosnia and went to Sarajevo University to study biology. Then the war broke out. Virtually overnight he lost everything – his house, his parents, his brother, his fiancé, and of course his studies. He recounts in an even voice that his mother was raped before being thrown into the Drina, his father murdered, his brother decapitated. ‘One day’ he said ‘my girlfriend said to me I don’t love you any more and went off with someone who could give her financial security. I wonder if that was the real her or just some devil speaking through her’.
The one possession or relationship he did not lose in the war was his dog, who survived.
During the war he said at first he lived off friends and humanitarian handouts, then he got a job with the Red Cross. He refused to pick up a gun and fight. He did the work that no-one else wanted to do, such as clearing away corpses. He saw that it was children and dogs who really suffered in Sarajevo and he knew at that point that he would devote his life to helping dogs or children.
He has many questions about why the war happened, but no answers. When he left Sarajevo he said he buried his friends in the cemetery and buried his love along with them. He felt, he said, something breaking in his soul.
You see him getting up early in the morning, woken by his ‘alarm clock’ dog lying on his chest and whining. Its 4 am. He gets up so early because, as he tells us, the huge pans of dog food meal have to be cooked for two hours. He explains that the bottom of the pans have to be lined with plastic as there are so many holes in them they would leak and a lot of the food would be lost. When it’s ready he pours the thick meal out of the large cooking pans into the containers which he takes outside and distributes among the dogs. They crowd around him eagerly, big, small, black, brown, white, multi-coloured. They are all strays he says.
He describes various of the dogs’ histories. One had its ears docked with an axe, another had an eye put out by its drunken owner; the same owner broke the pelvis of another dog. One was found as an abandoned puppy, almost frozen to death, but given warmth, food and care, it survived. It was this one that was afraid of people and he says that he understands this, he has begun to be reserved about people too.
The compound is spacious, with plenty of room for the dogs to roam around. Just beyond it are wide open green spaces, huge leafy trees with the sunlight filtering through, and green mountains in the background.
‘People think’ says Vladimir, ‘that you need money to live on, but it's not that we need, nor imaginary success or a name that sounds important. It’s actually love you live on, love, fresh air and natural surroundings.’