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Film Reviews Review: Dafoe adds wonderfully offbeat rhythm to doc Do Donkeys Act?

An image from the film Do Donkeys Act?

Courtesy of Hot Docs

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Do Donkeys Act?
Directed by
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
Starring
Featuring the voice of Willem Dafoe
Genre
Documentary
Classification
G
Country
Canada/Ireland/USA/UK
Language
English
Year
2017

It is a well-known maxim in movie-making that any project can be improved by the presence of Willem Dafoe. The eclectic actor's resumé is long and varied, ranging from limp blockbuster to indie curiosity, but it is impossible to find a Dafoe performance that wasn't, at the very least, interesting.

So it was only a matter of time before the Dafoe Maxim made its way into the documentary world, with the actor narrating the action, so to speak, of Do Donkeys Act? The slow-burn of a doc looks at four donkey sanctuaries across the world (one in Guelph, Ont.; one in Cork, Ireland; one in upstate New York; and one in Devon, England) to offer a gentle, compassionate view of the misunderstood and oft-abused beast.

The short film – a mere 72 minutes – stretches scenes out for minutes at a time, with no real narrative at play. We simply watch the donkeys eat, walk, sleep. But all the while, Dafoe's meditative dialogue ("A scream not in pity, but as an eternal bray") adds a wonderfully offbeat rhythm to the proceedings. It will either hypnotize you or put you gently to sleep, but it will long stand in the Dafoe pantheon.

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