Pet Shop Days
Parental influence is an undeniable force for most young adults, and the addition of shared passions inevitably intensifies that. For Olmo Schnabel’s directorial debut, his father’s (Julian Schanbel) interest in the landscape and culture of New York has clearly shaped his artistic direction, and is an aspect that he explores in relation to individual identity.
Pet Shop Days is a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde that follows two boys coming to terms with their sexuality in a turbulent New York, with even more tumultuous family dynamics. Though experiencing similar oedipal complications, Jack and Alejandro’s hometowns differentiate them and the fact becomes a point of contention for the couple, Alejandro touching upon his traumatic experiences in Mexico. Their relationship is nonetheless tender, at points lighthearted, and endlessly dramatic, as they explore the vices of the city’s underworld.
Jack’s dissatisfaction with his life is an aspect explored by many post-Covid directors, but the manner in which Schnabel portrays the character’s attraction to an alternative lifestyle (offered by Alejandro) away from his family troubles is poetic and emotive. To him, Alejandro is impulsive but courageous, and their chance encounter adds to his perception of destiny. The latter’s past echoes Julian Schnabel’s depiction of Reinaldo Arenas’s relocation to New York in search of respite from his troubled past, as recounted in Before Night Falls.
Most touching in the narrative is Jack’s growth in confidence and sense of identity, catalysed by Alejandro, whose educator role in their relationship helps his friend to see the light in his life, which is visually heightened by the use of motivated lighting through fairy lights and bulbs. Complicated as his history is, Alejandro is an ultimately positive force.
Echoing the director’s own path, Schnabel’s film explores the search for identity and belonging as separate from family, and the surprising encounters in our lives that help us along the way. For the filmmaker, his father inspired his creativity; for Jack, Alejandro inspires his transformation, albeit in a dangerous manner. His life and his family’s are turned upside-down from the moment Alejandro enters the pet shop – a bittersweet reminder that change often occurs when we least expect it. For viewers in 2023, this has powerful resonance, the pandemic having caused a dramatic shift for better or worse.
Pet Shop Days does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Pet Shop Days here: