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Once again, I get to catch a movie at the Angelika Film Center that isn’t playing anywhere else in town. And luckily, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It could’ve easily slipped by me. The idea of seeing a movie out of Spain, about a guy dying of cancer and a slobbering dog…doesn’t sound like the best time at the cinema. Yet this reminded me a lot of 50/50 (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen). They could be funny, sad, touching, thought-provoking, and they didn’t just rely on a cute dog to win us over. In fact, they did this with one of the least attractive dogs around — an old Bull Mastiff that was underacting in the role. It’s not like director /co-writer Cesc Gay felt the need to have a dog doing cute tricks, or cheesy leg humping jokes. Instead, we get a tail wag here, or a turn of the head that breaks your heart. It’s not nearly as sad as you think it’ll be, but it’s the most touching movie you’ll see this year. A celebration of life, friendship, grudges, and dogs.

Ricardo Darin, a popular Argentine actor, plays Julian — also an actor. He’s brilliant in the role, and so good, that it’s a shame his co-star Javier Camara (who looks like a thinner Louis C.K.), playing Tomas, won’t get the attention he deserves. He’s terrific as the caring friend who has travelled from Canada to spend four days with his lifelong friend. They’ve obviously drifted apart a bit over the years.

We learn in the first scene that Julian has decided against further chemo treatments and doesn’t have long to live. Tomas helps him tie up loose ends, enjoys meals with him, and helps in the search for a new family to take care of Julian’s beloved dog, Truman. Again, this might seem like a lazy attempt at creating that cliche drama, but it all works beautifully. It never turns into a silly bucket list, or crazy moments. There are touches of needed comic relief, and interesting interactions with friends (and enemies) he runs into in town.

One conversation the two friends have over the phone about atheism is interesting and humorous. It also made me wish the movie had a few more profound moments.

There’s a scene with an impromptu lunch involving his son Nico (Oriol Pla), and it’s got just the right touches. It’s not some rebellious college kid that’s angry. It’s not some moment where they start bawling about cancer. Yet it’s as emotional as if the father did die in a hospital bed with his crying son by his side. That’s the nature of terrific, subtle filmmaking that we don’t see enough of.

When Julian wants to confront a fellow actor he feels slighted him in a restaurant, Tomas tries talking him out of it. When Julian is questioning a doctor, or vet, and Tomas is uncomfortable…it’s just a small arch of his eyebrow or slight grimace.

If you’re a dog lover, you’ve got to see this. If you’ve ever had a friend you’ve tried to help that is dying, you should see this. Hell, if you’re an adult that likes great filmmaking and aren’t afraid of subtitles — go see it.

The score is just lovely, and I believe they slipped in the Nick Lowe song “Cracking Up.” The opening lyrics:

Cracking up, I’m getting ready to go/Had enough, I can’t take any more

No pills that I can take/This is too real and there ain’t no escape

It scares the daylights/It makes a nightmare

I’m tensioned and I’m nervous…
This gets 4 stars out of 5.