There are about twenty different directions I could go in critiquing Musa Syeed's latest feature length film. The first could be as an inspection of the trials and tribulations African refugees suffer when they come to the United States to escape homeland civil war. "A Stray" focuses on Somali immigrants; the last time we saw a film about Somali's they were pirating Tom Hanks boat.


I could also look at the social interactions between Muslims and Christians as well as Muslims and Muslims here in the United States. His film suggests a certain caste system between the haves and the have-nots that build into resentment - though rather minor.


But I decided to take the easy route and discuss the films obvious charm - a man and his dog. Often a mushy subject, but this time not so much as it focuses more on the fragile relationship between the man and the dog.

Barkhad Abdirahman is Adan, a Somali refugee who is quickly burning his bridges with a selfish, impatient attitude. The film opens with his staying at a neighbor's flat because his mother caught him stealing her jewelry and put him out. His neighbors have also grown annoyed with his lack of contributing to the household and demanded that he at least do chores - like cleaning the bathroom. He refuses, damages their property and runs out the house.


Minneapolis is not exactly the best place for a person to live on the streets and Adan quickly looks for a place to flop. In doing so, he accidentally hits a mutt also roaming the street. Despite his beliefs, he feels obligated to see that the mutt - whom he names Lailah - gets proper veterinary care. The problem is, the vet doesn't keep dogs and gives it back to Adan.


Adan is a nearly devout Muslim and which means he is in conflict as to what to do with the pooch - Muslims believe that dogs are impure and warn against contact with dogs. Adan finds a large shoulder bag and gets the dog to get inside the bag for transportation, thus starting their trek from spot to spot. Most spots rejecting the idea of him having a dog.


The Christian social workers are sympathetic about him and the dog but they want him to find a job and work. Herein lies the Adan's deepest problem: he is lazy. At about the midway point of the film you realize Adan wants something for nothing and expects everyone to give him - and now the dog - everything.


Still, something about the dog, perhaps the added responsibility or whatever, makes Adan begin to become the responsible person that everyone else wants him to be, even though his Muslim fiends think he should ditch the dog.


"A Stray" is an engaging look at a man at the end of his road who finds redemption with a companion that goes against his religious code but fits just fine with his moral code. [Somali with English subtitles]   -- GEOFF BURTON