A bizarre, confounding film, Chien is the highlight of Locarno so far. This is a modern-day Metamorphosis – a tale of a man whose indolence and torpor initiates his descent into caninehood. The transformation is not biological, nor even psychological. In fact, Jacques Blanchot (Vincent Macaigne) already possesses the tongue-loose, droopy-eyed expression and dutiful credulity of an obedient dog. It is instead the logical endpoint for someone who has forfeited all decisiveness, autonomy and self-respect. Jacques requires an assertion of value. And one can find value everywhere. But it’s more difficult to spot from the myopic perspective of a faithful hound.
We start with Jacques in a predicament. His wife (Vanessa Paradis) is leaving him, citing a disease that bears his name. His son pleads apathy at his exile. His wife starts a relationship with a man who wears red shorts and shoes. Jacques loses his job. His overly reasonable response to the dismissal – initiated by the owner’s odious university graduate nephew – is wholly unreasonable. Jacques will be punished. After an unfortunate episode with a newly purchased mutt (that he’s convinced has a prominent resemblance to Hitler), Jacques finds himself at the behest of a maniacal, psychopathic, sabre-wielding dog trainer (a wide-eyed, boisterous performance from Bouli Lanners). Jacques’s feelings are internalised; his passivity becomes subversion. He will suffer further. Shot gloriously by Guillaume Deffontaines, the clinical environment emphasises the singular, esoteric nature of our main character’s behaviour. Meanwhile director and co-writer Samuel Benchetrit expertly maintains the tone throughout these events, challenging the viewer to locate agency as senseless injustice builds upon senseless injustice. Who is to blame – Jacques or his society? Is there any shame in wishing an animal-like existence? Similar to Robert Coover’s Frog Prince, perhaps Jacques just prefers rolling in the muck.
If Chris Morris’s Jam monologues were ever put to celluloid, it may look something like this. Frequently hilarious, surreal and deranged, the picture shows a person stripped away, ground down, caged. It shows him return again and again to the bloodied puddle where his pooch once stood. It’s hard not to laugh or be moved by such strange, joyous filmmaking. But in the end we must return to value. Where will Jacques find it? Perhaps in an acknowledgement – muttered elegantly in the midst of a wrestling pin – that man is “a mere ant in the field of violence”. That seems a very human form of enlightenment.
Chien (Dog) does not have a UK release date yet.