The boy's bond with the dog elevates him in his own and everyone else's estimation. His father and brother take notices of him more, as do his school friends and finally Ayse. When his father tries to sell the dog, Aslan is enraged and his no holds barred tantrum make the adults back off. The boy is becoming a man. His own obvious affection for the dog is similar to that shown by Billy in Ken Loach's Kes (1969). Herein though lies the contradiction that will give the rest of the film its dramatic tension. As Sivas grows stronger, Aslan agrees for him to return to dogfighting, and the village elder (Muttalip Mujdeci) takes them to what he calls "a national championship" of the sport near Ankara, evading police roadblocks in the process. The pride and esteem he finally attains comes at the price of harming the dog, and taking away the one creature with which he has a proper relationship.
The dogfights, simulated or otherwise, are gruesome to behold and will for many be a major stumbling block. At the Venice press screening there were walk-outs and the credits were greeted by some loud protests. Yet dogfighting is a part of the lives for these communities and censoring that would essentially mean refusing to look at a part of the world. A wry humour is also in evidence, not only the universal experiences of childhood friendships and jealousies, but also in the hypocrisy of the adult world, the self-serving elder and the teacher who from the sound of his television is obviously watching a porno when Aslan comes round. Despite the ferocious violence of the dogfighting and the stark poverty, a surprising humanity underpins Sivas, making the film more of a traditional boy-and-his-dog tale than it initially appears.
The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.