In Irene Gutiérrez’s Between Dog and Wolf, the relationship between past and present — and future — is vertiginous. We are left to deduce the time and place on the basis of some scattered memorabilia, and the age of the subjects. In the mountainous Sierra Maestra jungle, located in Southeast Cuba, Juan Batista Lopez, Miguel Soto, and Alberta Santana—all veterans of the Angolan War—reprise their wartime responsibilities and activities, roughing it in the wild, and maintaining their strength from a different era, one where the revolutionary spirit was more palpable. As the film’s voiceover intones, “Today everything has a less dramatic tone.”
A sense of loss presides over the documentary. The men discuss their fallen comrades, whom they feel they owe a continued duty to, highlighting their mentality at the time of the Angolan War, which was to either win or die. So the three work their way through the jungle once again: Following a brief opening of archival footage, the men are introduced, rather disarmingly, in camouflage, armed with sniper rifles, but with the specifics of their “mission” still withheld. Gutiérrez’s style is laconic, a paradoxical method of capturing all the burly training and travailing transpiring. Just as much time is dedicated to combative machete practice as to a refreshing dip in a mountain stream. Much of the film consists of communion with the jungle, though there’s also frustration, the observational camera capturing the durational heft and physical prowess necessary to enact this trek.
Juan, Miguel, and Alberta’s lives appear to exist only in the moment-to-moment progression offered by Between Dog and Wolf — a knotty impression, considering that they’re otherwise tethered to the past. Remarkably, this insularity is framed nonjudgmentally: testimonies, conversations, and physical ventures are all granted the proper breathing room. The film’s cyclical structure may strike viewers as noncommittal, but Gutiérrez’s lack of a personal stance regarding her chosen subject is appreciated. As the three men return to the jungle at the end, it becomes clear that this is no mere wargame, but a preservatory tactic for whatever the future may hold, even as the past seems further and further away.
Published as part of Neighboring Scenes 2021.