Shaggy Dog Story
20 May 2022
Maya Perez, Phil Perez, Sanna Knippelmeyer, Xavi
Everybody loves a good Shaggy Dog Story; a twisting yarn full of ups and downs, laughs and tears, which usually ends up with an anticlimactic ending that no-one was expecting. Thankfully, film-maker Phil Perez decided which of these elements he wanted to use and which he wanted to leave out in telling his own Shaggy Dog Story, keeping his tale to a succinct seven and a half minutes and allowing his ending to still be surprising if not entirely climactic.
Phil's daughter Maya is having a tough time dealing with the deteriorating health of their dog, Xavi. He is a bearded collie who during lockdown 2020 developed Degenerative Myelopathy, more commonly knows as MS for dogs. Xavi's back legs have lost most of their motor function and he can't catch balls or fetch sticks like he used to. Maya still loves him as much as ever though, and spends as much time with Xavi as she can, showering him with attention, affection and hugs.
Xavi still likes to join in wherever he can and often manages to find himself encapsulated in Maya's world of role-play. Whether as a wigged unicorn or a lifelike stuffed toy (a la E.T.), Xavi is a constant companion to Maya, as she is to him. The two seem inseparable as the days go by and the story plays out, but always in the background is the spectre of Xavi's condition and just how much further he is going to deteriorate.
The relationship between Maya and Xavi is obviously at the heart of this Shaggy Dog Story, and because the events and emotions being dealt with on screen are all real, there is a genuine sense of the love and concern which exists between the two. The relationship between Maya and her parents also adds complexity to this as they try to stay pragmatic and realistic in the face of insurmountable odds, whilst at the same time finding a way to deal with their own feelings as Maya shares hers.
The film itself tells the story in the form of a video diary, where everything has the feel of a home video, with Dad capturing moments on camera which may not have long left to be experienced in real life. The audience feels brought into the household to witness what may be Maya and Xavi's last days together and to experience the highs and lows along with them. This can mean that there's not much to pick out from the film in terms of direction or acting but Phil Perez still manages to get some nice shots in there, utilising his cinematography skills where he can.
Maya and Xavi's story is a very personal one and therefore plays out as such on film. While this particular Shaggy Dog Story certainly has all the feels you could hope for, it ultimately comes across as a story which belongs to someone else. Maya will undoubtedly be very glad in years to come to have this enduring testament to her and Xavi's relationship, and be happy that she was able to share it with others. For the rest of us though it may just feel like one more Shaggy Dog Story in a world where everyone has their own Shaggy Dog Story to tell.