Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog (2021) Review
Based on the Israeli novel The Jewish Dog, Lynn Roth’s canine Holocaust drama is a simplistic, family-friendly affair.
In a large townhouse in 1930s Germany, a young Jewish boy and sixth-generation German Joshua (August Maturo) celebrates with his family a new litter of puppies. After Joshua accidentally names the first pup - a girl - Joseph, his father names the boy Kaleb. It’s sweet and smiley, but it’s obvious where this warm opening is headed.
As Kaleb is growing up, the Nazis begin to introduce and enforce the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws, preventing Jews from employing housekeepers or owning pets. It all happens quite quickly, and, predictably, in a film about a dog the latter is treated with more emotional heft.
Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog is miscalculated and a little baffling
A German (Miklos Kapacsy) briefly adopts him, much to his wife’s (Lois Robbins) chagrin, who believes a Jewish dog is no replacement for a German dog. Cast aside by the married couple, Kaleb soon ends up in the care of SS dog-trainer, Ralph (Ken Duken), who trains him to sniff out Jews.
It’s clear what the aim is: an informative and fairly literal allegory, with a family-friendly shift in perspective. Throughout, Roth quite tactfully renders the concentration camps with that family audience in mind, carefully avoiding glib realities without ever feeling like it’s downplaying or ignoring them.
Indeed, it may play well with younger viewers, but it quickly becomes a chore, and it never quite finds the right balance between historical drama and schmaltzy dog movie.
The acting is often as stiff as a board, with ostensibly German accents rarely lasting for an entire scene.
At its best, Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog is miscalculated and a little baffling, and you can overlook some of the more wooden scenes. But, at its worst it is painfully unengaging - too light to be taken seriously, but too serious to make for light viewing.
Or maybe I’m just a cat person.
Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog opens in select cinemas on Friday, May 28.