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Canadian Film Fest 2019: ‘The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova’ Celebrates its Culture

Wanting to bring a little bit of joy to their dying grandmother, a brother and sister from Canada head to Poland to find the remains of their grandmother’s dog. Every bit of that synopsis is mined in The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova for something profound to say, whether it’s the heritage we leave behind, the strain of confronting emotions with siblings, or the desire to escape into fleeting moments of happiness — there is no stone left unturned. Unfortunately, other than a few shining moments, the result feels more like a half-baked Richard Linklater movie than an emotionally satisfying road trip movie.

In its initial few minutes, The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova confidently establishes the two siblings — Sarah (Katherine Fogler) and Aaron (Douglas Nyback) — as distant but familial. They bicker with one another, find common ground, and ultimately reveal a lot of truths the other siblings wasn’t aware existed. As they head to find their grandmother’s dog’s remains, their relationship unravels and grows stronger because of it. From a screenplay perspective, it’s that stuff that feels like the heart of the film. However, everything gets a little harder to praise when that combat between siblings feels forced. Fogler and Nyback can hold their own as leads of movies, but the chemistry between them is often grating.

The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova

As the focal point of the film, the relationship is what should come off as strongest, but it really doesn’t help that the script is constantly finding a new tangent to go on. And even though those tangents are sometimes worth exploring, the script doesn’t really dive too deep into any of them. This idea of scuttling away to something more simple because it’s easier would be far more interesting to explore had it been tied tighter with the underlying distance the two siblings seem to have between each other.

However, despite the movie’s shortcomings, it does provide a sense of place. There are quirky characters hiding away in each city and village of Poland. The culture and traditions feel embedded in the film’s DNA. That is why it is hard not to feel disappointed that the details stand out more than the central narrative. The Dancing Dogs of Dombrova is a hodgepodge of a film that never amounts to more than a peculiar road trip movie with ideas that impress more in theory than execution.

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