Saturday, June 22, 2024

“DOG ON TRIAL”

THE STORY – An idealistic lawyer takes on the odd case of a dog being put on trial for biting people.

THE CASTLaetitia Dosch, François Damiens & Anne Dorval

THE TEAMLaetitia Dosch (Director/Writer) & Anne-Sophie Bailly (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 80 Minutes


If there was a theme running through this year’s Un Certain Regard sidebar at the Cannes Film Festival, it was French-speaking actresses stepping behind the camera. One of them was French-Swiss performer Laetitia Dosch, a Cannes regular whose most notable credits include “Keeper” (2015) and “Our Struggles” (2018), both directed by Guillaume Senez; “Montparnasse Bienvenue” (2017), which earned its director Léonore Serraille the festival’s Caméra d’Or prize; and “Age of Panic” (2013), the feature debut of “Anatomy of a Fall” helmer Justine Triet. Unsurprisingly, Triet was in the audience for the world premiere of “Dog on Trial,” Dosch’s debut behind the camera, a legal comedy loosely based on real events.

The true story occurs in France, whereas the film moves the action to Lausanne, Switzerland, complete with a winking voiceover for French audiences about how significant things sometimes happen on the other side of the Alps. Avril Lucciani, played by Dosch, is a lawyer with a knack for hopeless cases, to the point that her boss (Pierre Deladonchamps), a textbook chauvinist, tells her she has to win her next case. Otherwise, she’ll be fired. And so, she stumbles upon the misadventures of Dariuch Michovski (François Damiens), whose beloved dog Cosmos is supposed to be put down for having bitten three people. Insisting the animal to be treated as a living being rather than an object, Avril successfully gets a trial for Cosmos, the first of its kind since the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the plaintiff’s lawyer is Roseline Bruckenheimer (Anne Dorval), who is using the case for her own political aspirations.

With her ample acting experience, Dosch draws unsurprisingly solid and funny performances from the entire cast, even with parts that are only a few seconds long (Lionel Baier, a prominent Swiss filmmaker and one of the movie’s producers, appears in a funny cameo when the question of dogs having a soul is brought up). Key to the whole project’s appeal is, of course, the canine star Kodi, who effortlessly brings down-to-earth charm to the heightened world conjured by the first-time director, and it’s no mystery why the four-legged scene-stealer won over a very special Cannes jury, the one handing out the Palm Dog (in a rare break with protocol, Kodi was also allowed to get up on stage with the cast and crew for the premiere screening). Particularly memorable are the scenes the dog shares with Dosch, as Avril tries to maintain professional composure while also reacting very humanely to what is clearly a good boy in spite of the accusations.

As a director, Dosch acquits herself well enough. However, her ambition does occasionally get in her way, especially in the film’s second half when different types of comedy start piling up on top of each other, leading to a somewhat scattershot approach where individual gags are chucklesome but don’t always form a coherent whole (one tangent about the feminist cause feels like it was meant for a different movie altogether). Still, there’s enough promise to suggest that, with a tighter script, future endeavors will improve on what is already a solid debut. Hopefully, whatever comes next will retain the Swiss setting because major things happen there, too.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Laetitia Dosch gets solid performances out of the ensemble cast and generally handles the comedic elements well.

THE BAD - The approach and tone get a bit scattershot in the second half, as it becomes unclear what the director is aiming for.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Laetitia Dosch gets solid performances out of the ensemble cast and generally handles the comedic elements well.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The approach and tone get a bit scattershot in the second half, as it becomes unclear what the director is aiming for.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"DOG ON TRIAL"