Barkhad Abdirahman in A Stray (IFP Screen Forward)

Barkhad Abdirahman in A Stray (IFP Screen Forward)

Musad Syeed’s coming-of-age tale centers on a young Somali man living among Minneapolis’s refugee community.  The film takes notes from the likes of Kelly Reichardt or Ramin Bahrani in that the journey of its core character supersedes plot, and for its focus on lives not typically depicted in American films, independent or otherwise.

Twenty-something Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman) is kind of a screw-up, temperamental and unreliable. He has been kicked out of his mother’s apartment—she believes he has stolen her jewelry—and out of his friends’ pad after a roommate squabble. So he takes to the streets to find a place to sleep. First, he loiters in a mosque, and at closing time he convinces the imam to let him stay the night. A member of the mosque then gives him a job working in his restaurant. Out on a delivery in the restaurant owner’s car, Adan hits a dog. He takes the dog to the vet and does not make the delivery, which gets him fired.

The film follows Adan over the next 24 hours as he wanders around city with the dog in tow. For some Muslims that Adan encounters, the dog is considered impure, which means by having the mutt, Adan is not welcome. Also, when he tries to rent a room, he is turned away because of the animal. While he ties to give it away numerous times, or ditch it completely, the dog tracks him down. Gradually Adan relents, spontaneously naming her Laila. So, therein lies the premise: Adan and Laila travel together through this new world, this new life.

Shot documentary style (Syeed has a background in the genre), the film tags along as Adan, with the dog perched in his duffel bag, explores what his adopted city has to offer. Along his travels he ventures into hipster bars, becomes friends with Native Americans, watches a multicultural poetry slam, and even scores some ready cash and a smartphone off an FBI agent by offering up some useless information to her. Even in this relationship Adan is a bit feckless; he rarely returns the agent’s calls. Plot is actually incidental, though.

A Stray touches upon religion, but it never seems heavy-handed. In fact, the role of the dog works as the variable in the equation of Adan’s quest to reconcile spirituality with his displacement from his homeland and his home within his community.

At one point, Adan says, “We’ve all strayed/Cut off from you/From where we were/From who we were.” That observation underlines his rootlessness. Through Adan’s street-level odyssey, Syeed’s film does a remarkable job of asking more questions than it answers.

Written and Directed by Musa Syeed
Released by IFP Screen Forward
USA. 82 min. Not rated
With Barkhad Abdirahman