In the documentary "A Letter to True," filmmaker Bruce Weber crafts a cinematic epistle to the youngest member of his family of golden retrievers. An undeniably odd film, this ode to pooches is more than just a dog calendar come to life. It is a relaxed and sincere compilation of memories and ideas the filmmaker wants to hold on to. Weber acknowledges that some may find it strange he is writing a letter to a dog, but he says that sometimes his dogs are the only ones who will listen.
Weber's stated goal was to create a film that, when times got rough, he could curl up on the floor and watch with the dogs and relive better days. And while he has created a bounty of beautiful images of the dogs, he has also produced something akin to a filmed journal of his own thoughts and interests.
Home movies, archival films, clips from golden age cinema and stills are combined with new footage of canines frolicking and in repose as Weber composes his correspondence to True. The film meanders in a stream of consciousness through such diverse topics as mortality, friendship, Sept. 11, war and surfing, in some cases seemingly linked only by the images of loping retrievers.
It's not surprising that the film is sumptuous to look at — Weber is a well-known photographer whose work has appeared in most major magazines. The revelation lies in the curiously intriguing tangents on which the film takes us.
The lush soundtrack radiates with music from the 1950s and '60s as Weber recounts meetings with Dirk Bogarde and Elizabeth Taylor — and their dogs — but what you take away from the encounters are the poignancy of the anecdotes. What at first glance seem like random episodes involving animals are actually lyrical impressions connected by the idea of unconditional love.
An Oscar nominee for his 1988 Chet Baker documentary, "Let's Get Lost," Weber also uses poems by Stephen Spender and Rainer Maria Rilke, read by Marianne Faithfull and Julie Christie, respectively, to underline his themes of hope and peace.
Strangely, the film manages to embrace nostalgia with its romantic overtones and desire to hold on to fond memories while simultaneously evoking a certain seize-the-day attitude. The past is inexorably entwined with the present.
While "A Letter to True" surpasses any simple expectations one might bring to a documentary ostensibly about dogs, fans of the canine species will be especially fond of the film.
To paraphrase a Rodgers and Hammerstein tune featured in the movie, "Hello dog lovers whoever you are, have I got a movie for you."
'A Letter to True'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Tasteful nudity, war images
A Zeitgeist Films release. Writer-director Bruce Weber. Producer Nan Bush. Cinematographers Pete Zuccarini, Evan Estern, Shane Sigler, Theo Stanley, Jim Fealy. Editor Chad Sipkin. Music John Leftwich. Art director Dimitri Levas. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.
Exclusively at the Landmark Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.