Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo is licked by Buddy the dog as actress Zsofia Psotta looks on during the photocall for their film Feher Isten (White Dog) at the Cannes Film Festival. (AFP)
Cannes, May 24: The violent Indian film Titli, about a dysfunctional family in the badlands of Delhi, came away empty-handed at the 67th Cannes Film Festival when all the prizes in the category known as Un Certain Regard went to movies from other countries.
The top prize went to a powerful Hungarian film, Feher Isten (White Dog), which uses 250 dogs to represent the oppressed minorities in Europe.
White God is being snapped up for numerous overseas territories, including notably India.
“I always use dogs to symbolise minorities,” said the film’s director Kornel Mundruczo. “I wanted to tell this tale as a metaphor about the European fears about dealing with minorities.”
The director is concerned about the rise of nationalist parties across Europe. In his native Hungary, a far-Right party is the third largest group in parliament.
Feher Isten tells of a country where pure breed dogs are preferred to mixed breeds which have a punitive tax imposed on them. A 13-year-old girl called Lili (played by actress Zsofia Psotta) has her beloved pet dog, Hagen, who is mixed breed, thrown out of the family car by her father.
While she searches for her friendly dog, Hagen is caught by new owners who beat and brutalise the animal, sharpen its teeth and convert it into a killer beast.
It is then inducted into dog fights and rips apart its opponents.
The story turns when 250 dogs, under the leadership of Hagen, escape and turn on their former cruel masters in revenge attacks. In the last scene, little Lili is confronted by her once loveable dog who prepares to savage the terrified girl.
But Lili takes out her saxophone and starts to play, as she had always done when she soothed Hagen to sleep. Good triumphs over evil and one by one all the dogs, led by Hagen, lie down and listen to the music, overcome by the power of love. The father, too, lies down on the street, alongside his daughter.
As the film ended after its premiere in Salle Debussy, the audience erupted in sustained applause. There was only brief and polite clapping for Titli in marked contrast.
Hagen (played by brothers Luke and Buddy) was awarded the eccentric Palm Dog Award on behalf of all the 250 animals used in the film. The dogs were trained by Teresa Ann Miller, who is well known in the film business.
Buddy was in Cannes for the film’s premiere and attended the photocall, walked up the red carpet and appeared on stage — the first dog in Cannes history to be given the privilege.
Un Certain Regard honours more offbeat films, often by debut directors such as Kanu Behl of Titli, than those up for the Palme d’Or.
Jury members who selected the winners among the 20 films competing included president of Criterion Collection Peter Becker, Norway-based actress Maria Bonnevie, French actress Geraldine Pailhas and Argentina’s Pablo Trapero, who chaired the jury.
The Un Certain Regard best actor’s prize went to David Gulpilil, an Australian Aboriginal actor who starred in Charlie’s Country, a drama touching on the current situation for the country’s indigenous population.
A prize was also given to the team behind French film Party Girl, the true story of a mother who works as a bar hostess and whose client falls in love with her.
A special prize went to German filmmaker Wim Wenders for his film The Salt of the Earth, which follows Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado’s 40-year career documenting world conflicts and virgin territories.
And the jury prize went to Turist by Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund, a film about a family who witness a terrifying avalanche in the French Alps.