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SIFF ADVANCE: Furever - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

There's a range of emotions, some of them conflicting, with a movie like Furever. Any animal lover will understand the grief associated with the loss of a beloved pet. Anyone with common sense will find the burgeoning industry of increasingly bizarre means of "memorializing" a pet to be a little predatory.

How crazy are these people, anyway? Writer-director Amy Finkel, who partially funded the film using Kickstarter, casts no judgment -- but opens the film with a guy who keeps little baggies of keepsakes of his deceased cat that include brushed-off fur, and even his final poop. Showing something like that and still keeping a tonal balance that avoids laughing at these people, whose grief is real, is a delicate process.

The film's Kickstarter page says Finkel is from Brooklyn, but this film has a surprising focus on the Northwest: interviews with Seattleites and professionals at the WSU veterinary school in Pullman. Subjects hail from all across the country, though, including a guy from a very small town who moved from taxidermy to freeze-drying pets. And then we come back to one young woman in Seattle who shares with us her freeze-dried dog that she carries in her lap and pets. The dog looks incredibly real -- because it is; it's just not alive -- until it registers that the thing never moves. The woman moves the dog around and its stiff legs move in stationery positions along with it, and that's a somewhat jarring sight to see. And yet, it's clear the dog brings her comfort. The woman's other dog, the one that's alive, doesn't seem to be quite as sure.

By and large, Furever's primary message seems to be that when it comes to how people deal with their dead pets -- you name it, someone out there does it. A trade show of caskets in Las Vegas features people who offer small, high-quality padded caskets both for children and pets. We see a couple of guys going through the process of mummifying a cat, and interview another woman who keeps her gold-cased mummified dog in her living room.

In this context, the pet owners who buy elaborate headstones for their pets' graves are just the tip of the iceberg.

How someone reacts to Furever likely depends largely on how they feel about pets and whether they have souls. At the screening I attended, there were people who clapped enthusiastically at certain points of the film where no other audience would, declaring their own alignment with the views of the subject on screen, wherever they fell on the spectrum from reasonable to nutso. At one point, we see a woman who calls herself a "pet communicator" (as opposed to "pet psychic," though in practice they seem to be one and the same), telling us all the things animals tell us. Cut to a woman who says, "I find that kind of projection intolerable." I'm more in the second lady's camp. And I adore my pets.

It's hard to be objective about a movie like this, or to say with much confidence how others will respond to it, all of our attitudes toward domesticated animals vary so widely. Some may think this is truly vital filmmaking, or feel validated by it, or be disgusted by it. Personally I had a much more moderate reaction to it. I feel for these people struggling with the loss of their pets. I'm not convinced keeping their corpse around the house for years is particularly healthy. If nothing else, Finkel is even-handed enough to present a film that allows audiences to respond on their own terms without feeling marginalized.

Not even death will stop the love of 'pet parents' in FUREVER.

Overall: B
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