Los Reyes

The documentary "Los Reyes" follows the lives of two stray dogs, Football and Chola.

On Sunday, the fourth day of the Wisconsin Film Festival, the digital projector at the Union South Marquee Cinema decided it would be a good time to go kaput.

Union South staff and festival volunteers scrambled to figure out an alternate way to screen “Los Reyes,” but there was one hitch: “Los Reyes" is a Spanish-language film, and the theater was unable to show subtitles.

It wasn’t too big a problem, though, as “Los Reyes” is about dogs.

Filmmakers Bettina Perut and Ivan Osnovikoff originally planned to make a movie about the skateboarders who hang out at Los Reyes ("The Kings"), Santiago, Chile’s oldest skate park, a concrete oasis in the middle of the city.

But they soon became enthralled with two characters who live at the park. Football and Chola are two black stray dogs who make themselves at home at the park. They eat scraps given to them by park visitors and chase after stray soccer and tennis balls. But mostly they just lie around the park, sleeping or watching, a constant presence for the skaters who come by.

Chola is a black Lab who is the more aggressive and playful of the two, chasing cyclists and others who enter her domain, barking happily. Football is the more contemplative of the pair, always sitting with something in her mouth — a half-empty Gatorade bottle, a chunk of concrete — watching the world go by.

Over the course of 77 minutes, we become enormously invested in the lives of these two dogs, watching as they interact with each other and the world around them. “Los Reyes” resists the urge to anthropomorphize them, and yet we feel like we come around to seeing the world through their tired eyes.

Perut and Osnovikoff use a variety of beautifully composed shots (collected over two years of filming), skillfully edited together, to present the world of Chola and Football. Some shots are taken from far away, so we can see the entire skate park almost as if it were a zoo enclosure, the dogs and skaters cohabitating together. Other shots are filmed in extreme close-up, lingering on the textures of the hairs of Chola’s muzzle, or of Football’s beloved, ruined tennis ball.

I thought it actually helped that the subtitles weren’t working, so that the chatter of the skaters blends into the background, as incomprehensible to non-Spanish speakers as it is to the dogs. One critic, though, said that the off-screen dialogue by the teenage skaters is essential to the texture of the film. The film gets a second showing at 4 p.m. Wednesday at AMC Madison 6, so it would be interesting to compare the two versions.

The 2019 Wisconsin Film Festival continues through Thursday at AMC Madison 6. Visit 2019.wifilmfest.org for a full schedule.

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Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.