Sweet Slice-of-Life ‘A Stray’ Pairs Up a Pup and a Somali Refugee

“Little devil. Heaven help me,” declares Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman) as he stares down at the stray dog he can’t quite shake.

As this small gem opens, the 22-year-old Somali refugee, living in Minneapolis, gets kicked out by his mother, argues with his friends, and, suddenly homeless, finds refuge in his local mosque. The next day, he crosses paths with that darn dog (Ayla, a dazzling Jack Russell). By tradition, Muslims tend to be leery of dogs, and Adan is no different — he never quite touches his new companion, yet he’s constantly placing her needs above his own.

Writer-director Musa Syeed has conjured a drama rich with incident — there’s even a federal agent using Adan as a (quite useless) informant — but most of the turns of plot feel organic, ours to discover, as long as we’re paying attention. So we suddenly learn, in the most casual way, what made Adan’s mother so mad, and discover, offhandedly, that Adan has given the dog a name.

The Kenyan-born Abdirahman, who lives in Minneapolis himself and was one of the pirates in Captain Phillips, turns in a gorgeous performance. You won’t catch him acting, but when Adan wanders into a Somali museum and runs his fingers through real dirt retrieved from his homeland, you’ll likely feel its textures in your fingertips, too.

A Stray
Directed by Musa Syeed
IFP Screen Forward
Opens October 21, IFP Media Center

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