Stray Dogs (12A)

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The Independent Culture

Stray Dogs may be the tale of two young siblings and their shaggy puppy, but it doesn't qualify as a children's film. Made by the Iranian wife of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, it's set in Afghanistan - or "Trashcanistan", as Christian Bale calls it in Harsh Times - just after the war. A seven-year-old girl and her older brother struggle to survive with both of their parents in prison: their father is a Taliban, and their mother's heinous crime is to have remarried five years after her husband disappeared. Refusing to despair, the children decide that their only hope of shelter is to be sent to prison themselves.

The story has its rough edges - for one thing, the dog is almost irrelevant - but Stray Dogs delivers as an eye-opening, heart-piercing missive from a dystopia that combines the medieval past and the post-apocalyptic future. As their mother freezes in a crumbling stone gaol, the children collect kindling in exchange for bread, and the only signs of modern technology are the despised planes which roar overhead, and the armoured cars with missiles on their backs.