Credit: Strand Releasing
by Conor Truax Featured Film Horizon Line

Mutt — Vuk Lungulov-Klotz

August 18, 2023

Here’s a scenario: your day starts with a pregnancy scare. Then, you find your sister has run away from school, and on top of that she’s having her first period, too. You try to help. You also need to borrow a car to pick up your father, and your partner has said you can use theirs. You don’t. You can’t. In a rush out the door, your sister locks your things inside, including your keys, credit card, and metro pass. You hop a turnstile and totally assault your own eye. This is a day that continues to get worse, a day quickly turning to nightmare — this is a day in the life of Feña (Lio Mehiel), a Chilean-American trans man whose transition is recent.

Mutt, the compelling debut feature from director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, traces the course of this day. Feña is not over his ex, John (Cole Doman), and it’s implied that their relationship ended due to toxicity on both sides during Feña’s gender-affirmation journey. The pair reunite after a chance encounter at a bar, and as they awake to a new day, John is baffled by the reality that Feña can still get pregnant. They have no conversation about the implications of their encounter; he says he’ll pay for Plan B, and the two split off to go about their day. In their short succession, many of the scenarios in Mutt feel improbable, and that’s probably because they are.

The film covers a lot of ground over its short runtime, a symptom of Lungulov-Klotz’s effort to “place all of his fears in the film.” There’s a clear sense of push-pull as the director contorts reality in a moving image that works to convey an essence that cannot be linearized or literalized across of runtime of just 87 minutes. The film’s constrained aspect ratio and uneven rhythm work together toward an end, articulating the confusion Feña feels as he experiences what’s essentially a new world for him, as well as the sense of an old world experiencing a new him. It’s a formal approach that aids the human concerns of the film’s subject matter, the representation of which feels increasingly important in our present. Very few films have been made about life after transitioning, and the nebulous inconclusion of our day spent with Feña invokes an acceptance of the basic mystery that belies the chaos of our collection and individual experience. And while Mutt may speak specifically to the experience of a trans man, the uncertainty, skepticism, anger, and love that Feña contends with are broad concerns of living a defined existence; not universal in the reductive sense of feeling the same feelings, but of the pressure to reduce the irreducible, in a vein effort to make others understand.

One Mutt‘s strengths is it’s unwillingness to flatten the characters who orbit Feña. John is accepting, but confused, and increasingly resentful of Feña; whether because of his transition or his behavior otherwise, viewers are never allowed into that intimate space of clarity. Pablo (Alejandro Goic), Feña’s father, is rendered similarly complex. He does not reject his son as much as he yearns to find understand; why this, why now? He demands explanations, but they are not for him or us to know. With every pull, there is a push.

Mutt’s failure, then, comes in its inability to consistently invest in this mystery, the fundamental unknowability of another, instead digressing into brief,  jarring moments of didacticism. John’s cousin at one point asks Feña if he has a dick, and then there’s the aforementioned confusion of John, who somehow, someway, is perplexed by the notion that Feña can, in fact, still get pregnant. These brief moments add little earned substance, and instead they feel distracting; rather than engage in a dialectic with the audience than could organically educate or edify, Lungulov-Klotz entertains a declarative approach to incident that undermines what’s unique about Feña’s reality. These moments feel more akin to an in-classroom lesson than a day-long character study of someone charting their singular path through a new world’s unknown.

Mutt reaches its climax when John tells Feña, in a heated exchange: “​​People don’t hate you because you’re trans. They hate you because you’re a fucking asshole!” It’s the kind of line we’ve seen in many a film before, and the triteness of this dialogue captures, in many ways, both the film’s successes and failures. Lungulov-Klotz admittedly ventures into new territory by alluding to relevant questions about what it means to exist within the evolving complexity of our modern world and its blurry social spaces. Unfortunately, Mutt doesn’t quite give us the necessary time and trust to let us ask or answer these questions ourselves.

DIRECTOR: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz;  CAST: Lio Mehiel, Cole Doman, Mimi Ryder, Alejandro Goic;  DISTRIBUTOR: Strand Releasing;  IN THEATERS: August 18;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 27 min.