This article appeared in the May 5, 2022 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writingSign up for the Letter here.

Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog (Julian Radlmaier, 2017)

Available to rent on Vimeo

The world has gotten crueler since the 2017 release of Julian Radlmaier’s breezy, comely political farce. By now, just as flat-affect hipster lip service to revolutionary politics gets tedious fast, so does satire thereof. But this wry, tender film is something else—a heady sort of comfort watch. All ideology may be pretense, Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog suggests, but at least we’re in it together.

Portrayed by the writer-director himself—and by a dog, in one of the film’s absurdist turns—Radlmaier’s protagonist is a version of himself: a genteel young German director by the name of Julian, who fritters away his ample leisure time lurking at a museum in order to meet women. One in particular, played by Deragh Campbell, inspires Julian to pretend his temp job at an apple orchard is research for a movie, and to offer her the lead role before she can even call his bluff. What he’s trying for, he tells her, is a fairy tale of communist utopia. And the orchard’s ragtag labor force, though subject to various corruptions, is nothing if not comradely. When their tyrant boss is felled by stepping on a rake, these bewildered proles first stand around her body debating whether and how to collectivize, then default to bacchanalian debauchery.

Radlmaier’s fellow feeling shows in his great gallery of lovingly photographed faces, which includes filmmaker Alexandre Koberidze as an employment-agency caseworker, the late Georgian poet Zurab Rtveliasvili as an apple-picker, and Campbell, whose sportive, soft-glow intelligence has made her a frequent indie MVP. When she tells Julian that waiting out the endgame of late capitalism strikes her as pretty depressing, he replies with conviction: “But this is why we make art—so that possibility can survive as form.” It’s touching to see how well this little comedy lives up to that affirmation.

Jonathan Kiefer is a writer and filmmaker based in Northern California.