On February 20, people around the country will celebrate Love Your Pet day by bestowing special treats and extra affection on their favorite animals. Of course, for most pet owners the special bond they celebrate this February is something that occurs all year long. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s debut feature The Mustang—in select theaters March 15—poignantly illustrates that unique affection between man and animal. When Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts), an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, is selected to be part of the Wild Horse Inmate Program, he finds himself utterly transformed through what Schoenaerts calls the “the humanization of people through animals.” In some ways, the actor's relation to the buckskin horse he choose to work with mirrors his character's journey. “I fell in love with that horse well before we started shooting," Schoenaerts relates.
For Love Your Pet Day, we shine the spotlight on four of our favorite Focus films in which animals showed us how to be human. Maybe you and your furry friend can pick one to curl up and watch this February 20.
The Zookeeper’s Wife | Healing the trauma of history
Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper's Wife dramatizes the inspiring true story of Jan and Antonina Żabiński, a Polish couple who used their Warsaw zoo to harbor Jews fleeing from the Nazi occupation. In the midst of man’s inhumanity to man, the film shines a light of hope in the ways animals help people recover from trauma. One of the film’s most touching scenes involves Antonia (Jessica Chastain) giving a pygmy rabbit to a young girl who has been abused by Nazi soldiers. “The transfer of that little bunny from the zookeeper's wife to one of her first human guests is the most moving part of the movie,” expresses Caro. “Animals helped her to heal,” Chastain says. “I think Antonina could connect better to animals than she could to people. And I believe animals can teach you how to handle people.”
Greenberg | Making man humane
In Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, the title character (Ben Stiller) is not doing great as a human being. Having moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to take care of his (more successful) brother’s house and dog Mahler, Greenberg can’t find gratitude for anything—not his luxe home, his easy life, or his brother’s sunny personal assistant (Greta Gerwig). Mahler, the amiable German Shepherd with a life-threatening medical condition, however, gives him a sense of purpose. “Through his advancing care and compassion toward the family dog…Greenberg is at his most humane,” writes the Santa Barbara Independent. Indeed his concern for Mahler goes a long way to creating the transformation described by The New York Times in which “suddenly a movie about a man who is defiantly difficult to like becomes very hard not to love.”
Beginners | Teaching us how to love again
For Beginners’ writer/director Mike Mills, Arthur, the Jack Russell Terrier that Oliver (Ewan McGregor) inherits after his father (Christopher Plummer) passes away, was deeply autobiographical. “I inherited my dad’s 13-year-old Jack Russell, and he was there while I was writing [the screenplay],” Mills told the dog-lovers site The Bark. Arthur (played by veteran canine actor Cosmo) accompanies Oliver through his journey to finding love again, even talking to his new master, albeit through subtitles. “The melancholy, existentialist, deep-thinking Jack Russell…truly won our hearts this year,” announced IndieWire, awarding Cosmo the “Best Dog of the Year Performance.” Perhaps even more endearing was how Cosmo's spirit touched the cast. On the last day of shooting, McGregor adopted a dog of his own. “I couldn’t stand the idea of not having him around," McGregor explained.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World | A little hope in the worst of times
In writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s apocalyptic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, news that an asteroid is hurtling straight towards earth turns everyone’s life upside down. Before deciding to spend his remaining days on a cross-country road trip with his slightly nutty neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley), Dodge (Steve Carell) adopts another lost soul, a terrier the pair decide to call Sorry. The little dog “becomes a responsibility that gives Dodge’s life meaning again,” explains Scafaria. Indeed the scrappy mutt who refuses to give up on Penny and Dodge becomes emblematic of hope itself. For Roger Ebert, Sorry’s story felt personal. “I realized what I would do if I knew the world was ending,” the film critic explains. “I would find a homeless mother dog with puppies and be calmed by her optimism.”