A Man and His Bitch 

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My Dog Tulip
Directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger

British author J.R. Ackerley never thought of himself as a dog lover before he adopted Tulip, an Alsatian bitch who, as evidenced by My Dog Tulip, Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's animated adaptation of Ackerley's 1956 memoir, became his loyal protector and something like the love of his later life. The film, with its almost exuberant cataloging of the bodily-function realities of dog ownership—anal glands, swollen vulvas, urination and vomiting rituals, mating misfires, etc.—is unlikely to inspire similar conversions, but the Fierlingers have also created something uncommonly poignant. Their tale of inter-species companionship doesn't lack for familiar man's-best-friend sentiment, but Christopher Plummer's playful-resigned Ackerley narration, which touches on the openly gay writer's disappointments with people (including his inability to find an "ideal friend"), can be quietly wrenching.

The Fierlingers' animation has a rough-hewn, constantly shifting look: Figures balloon, backgrounds are often abstract or minimally drawn, and some sequences take the form of deliberately amateurish pencil sketches. This is reputedly the first film to be entirely hand-drawn and painted in a "paperless" fashion, straight onto a computer—and the free-floating aesthetic serves to keep this bawdy man-dog love story out of too-literal territory.

The conclusion of My Dog Tulip, in which the Fierlingers plaster the book's concluding passage in large print right up on the screen, suggests a fidelity to the text on par with the German shepherd's to her master. But while My Dog Tulip might sometimes feel more like an illustrated edition than a movie in its own right—nominal vocal appearances by Isabella Rossellini and the late Lynn Redgrave reinforce a kind of star-studded audiobook feeling—the Fierlingers succeed in sketching out a movingly candid account of an unexpected friendship.

Opens September 1 at Film Forum

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