Don’t let the name or the opening moments trick you: Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog is not really about dogs. But that feint is itself representative of Julian Radlmaier’s comedy, which propels itself along by sudden swerves.
Its first real narrative thread is inauspicious: Radlmaier, playing himself, out of money to make his next film, is forced to work at a peach-picking plantation, convinces a woman (Deragh Campbell) he is doing research for a new film that he wants her to star in. (She’s rightfully suspicious: he just wants to sleep with her.) It is the dullest variation on the dullest story (director makes a film about himself trying to make a film), but it quickly turns into a meandering comedy.
The politics of the plantation are a little blunt and simplistic (the term “neo-liberalism” could be used a lot in describing it), but the film is saved by Radlmaier’s incredible eye for comedic shot construction. As both director and star, he has a Chaplinesque combination of skills, both at framing a shot to tell a joke on its own and at using his tall, lanky body in inherently funny ways.
Eventually, he fades away, and Bourgeois Dog becomes more of a free-floating comedy on Marxist themes. One section in particular — in which two workers are convinced that the Communists have taken over Italy, and wander around, convinced every sign is proof of the successful revolution — is such a clever idea that I’m shocked I haven’t seen it before.
MUBI’s description compares it to Bunuel, but I’m not sure outside of their shared political beliefs that’s entirely fair. Bunuel may have abandoned narrative form, but usually held carefully onto his concepts. Godard seems a better comparison, both for Radlmaier’s careful Academy ratio compositions and for his floating form.
But if he’s like Godard, it’s Godard at his funniest, his most humane, and his least doctrinaire. Despite some touchy aspects (even as the subject of a comedy, no one needs another film about misogynist directors), it’s a real accomplishment and something to be shared.