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The real stars of Cannes may be the dogs

The real stars of Cannes may be the dogs

Eddie Peng poses with his dog Xin during an interview for the film ‘Black Dog’ at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/Invision/AP)



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By Louise Dixon The Associated Press

CANNES, France (AP) — It’s been a dog’s life at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — or should that be the Canine Film Festival?

Since the 77th edition’s opening day, human actors have shared the limelight with their canine co-stars on and off the red carpet, kept secure by the perky sniffer dogs that dart around the press ladder and tripods ahead of every premiere.

It all started with Messi, from last year’s Palme d’Or winner “Anatomy of a Fall” and the reigning Palm Dog champion. He was first out when the festival opened last Tuesday, flouting the carpet’s strict black-tie protocols.

Sans the obligatory bow tie or clothes of any sort, the in-demand border collie performed tricks up the famous steps of the Palais des Festivals. In town this year as a correspondent for French television, he’s been spotted up and down Cannes’ famed Croisette, taking selfies with fans.

Riding on Messi’s purely proverbial coattails was Felicity, a Samoyed ambassador for the London-based charity NoToDogMeat, which rescued her from China’s meat trade. Felicity wore a custom-made gold gown for her red-carpet moment, posing for the cameras like a pro — it was, after all, her second year in a row at the festival.

Meanwhile, Demi Moore jetted into town with her tiny chihuahua Pilaf to promote the body-horror film “The Substance.” The teeny pooch was front and center of the photocall. Even after Moore spent six to eight hours in the makeup chair with only her eyes visible, Pilaf always recognized her during filming: “That’s all that counted. My touchstone of reality,” the actor said at the movie’s press conference.

And while Pilaf only made it to Cannes as a plus-one, there were two leading dogs in town to promote their movies.

Swiss comedy “Dog on Trial” premiered in the Un Certain Regard section, directed by and starring Laetitia Dosch. Based on a real case, the French-language film tells the story of a defense lawyer who takes on Cosmos, an aggressive dog facing legal action, as a client.

The titular dog is played by Kodi, a griffon, who Dosch says is really the star of the movie. It was important to her that Kodi had his name on the credits and the film poster and would be by her side in Cannes. A comedy-drama with a feminist outlook, “Dog on Trial” is about exploitation, Dosch says — and she has an offbeat theory as to what women and dogs have in common.

“Dogs come from wolves and we have been sculpting dogs for 40,000 years to become our perfect friends full of love,” she explains in an interview. “We castrate them also, so they can be peaceful all of the time, so we manipulate them to fit and to be exactly what we need. So, if I replace the word ‘dog’ by ‘women’ and I say the same sentence, it also makes sense.”

Kodi, however, did not get the memo. He spent the interview humping Dosch’s leg and licking her face, sending her earring cascading through the slatted flooring and earning him an eviction from the interview. He was kept away from subsequent red carpet appearances.

Also competing in Un Certain Regard — which curates a lineup of original and daring films — is another dog-centered drama, “Gou Zhen” (“Black Dog”) from the Chinese director Guan Hu. In it, Taiwanese superstar Eddie Peng plays Lang, who’s charged with removing stray dogs from his hometown on government orders ahead of the Olympic Games. One particular dog has a profound impact on Lang — and, as it turns out, on the actor himself.

Peng built up such a bond with his canine co-star Xin, a Jack Russell-greyhound cross, that he adopted her after filming ended and credits her for changing his outlook on life.

“They act truthfully,” Peng says of dogs, on a stroll around the Cannes harborfront with Xin, who accompanied him to France. “They don’t, you know, they don’t put on the mask. They don’t care about who you are or whether you’re famous or not, how much money you make.”

When he comes home, she jumps up like it’s the happiest moment of her entire life: “I think that’s something that we all need to learn from.”

She’s also changed the way he approaches acting, abandoning much backstory and preparation.

“Animals are just so present, you know. It will be so obvious somehow, if you are overacting,” he says.

Both Kodi and Xin are surely contenders for this year’s Palm Dog, an unofficial award created by journalists recognizing the best chien in show biz. Contest creator Toby Rose is giving nothing away ahead of Friday’s ceremony, but said this year started auspiciously with Palm Dog 2023 winner Messi and “is without doubt set to be a vintage Palm Dog year.”

In Peng’s view, Xin is already a winner. He might be a household name in Asia, but it’s Xin who is getting the lion’s share of the adoration in Cannes. Since the film screened earlier this week, Peng says she’s been recognized on the streets.

“Maybe in the future I don’t need to work anymore,” he says. “I’ll just be the agent with my dog.”

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