Cannes Film Festival: ‘Black Dog’ Wins Un Certain Regard Award

Exactly ten years after the genre-mixing, canine-driven Hungarian thriller “White God” landed the Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, this year’s ceremony culminated in the same prize going to a somewhat corresponding title: Chinese director Guan Hu’s “Black Dog,” a fusion of western, film noir and offbeat comedy with a highly lovable mutt at its center. The film, about a damaged loner returning to his desert hometown after a spell in prison and kinding a kindred spirit in an equally world-weary greyhound, beat 17 other titles to take the top prize in the festival’s second-most prestigious competitive section. (The festival’s Official Competition awards will be handed out tomorrow night.)

Jury president Xavier Dolan, the actor-auteur behind such films as “Mommy” and “Laurence Anyways,” commended Guan’s film for “its breathtaking poetry, its imagination, its precision [and] its masterful direction.” He echoed the enthusiasm of Variety critic Jessica Kiang, whose rave review of “Black Dog” noted that it’s a far smaller production than the director’s recent blockbusters “The Eight Hundred” and “The Sacrifice,” but that it “nonetheless has the grandly cinematic vision to lend an intimate tale a gloriously epic, allegorical edge.”

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It wasn’t a surprising choice, given that Guan’s film received some of the best notices of any film in the strand, though the film’s team ascended the stage — without Guan, but with Xin, their wiry canine star, in tow — looking flabbergasted. “How much time do we have?” said breathless leading man Eddie Peng, kicking off the speeches, honoring his director before handing over to the producers, one of whom accepted with a modified quote from the film itself: “We stand up, we walk towards the future, and I hope that Chinese cinema can get better and better.”

The win was something of a vindication, too, for Xin, who earlier in the day had to settle for second prize at the rather more informally juried Palm Dog awards, recognizing the best canine performances across all sections of the Cannes lineup. She lost out to Kodi, the equally impressive mongrel at the heart of another Un Certain Regard title, Laetitia Dosch’s zany courtroom comedy “Dog on Trial.” (Dosch’s film went unrewarded by Dolan’s jury, which only recognizes human thesping.)

The jury — also made up of actor Vicky Krieps, filmmakers Maïmouna Doucouré and Asmae El Moudir, and veteran film writer (former Variety chief critic) Todd McCarthy — presented the runner-up award, the Jury Prize, to French director Boris Lojkine’s “The Story of Souleymane.” The film, a moving social drama chronicling the struggle of an immigrant Guinean delivery cyclist in Paris as he prepares for an asylum application interview, is carried by first-time actor Abou Sangare, who won one of the jury’s two non-gendered performance awards — thus making Lojkine’s film the night’s only multiple prizewinner.

Presenting Sangare’s award, Krieps commended the actor’s commitment: “You woke up every morning at 5 a.m. and probably wondered, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ And it was fucking brilliant, what you were doing.” The second performance prize went to Indian actor Anasuya Sengupta for her performance as a queer Delhi sex worker on the run after killing a police officer in director Konstantin Bojanov’s “The Shameless.” She gave the night’s most rousing speech, dedicating her award “to the queer community and other marginalized communities all around for so bravely fighting a fight they really shouldn’t have to fight.” She continued, “You don’t have to be queer to fight for equality, you don’t have be colonized to know that colonizing is pathetic — we just need to be very, very decent human beings.”

The jury’s Best Director prize was shared by Zambian-British helmer Rungano Nyoni, for her haunting sophomore feature “On Becoming a Guinea Fowl,” and Roberto Minervini, a celebrated Italian docmaker who shifted fully to narrative filmmaking for his American Civil War drama “The Damned.” Nyoni’s A24-backed film, about the emergence of sexual abuse trauma during family preparations for a traditional Zambian funeral, was praised by Variety‘s critic as “palpably new, future-minded filmmaking, at once intrepidly daring and rigorously poised.” “The Damned,” meanwhile, was described by chief critic Peter Debruge as “a quiet, occasionally poetic film [that] feels like a natural extension of the themes and approach of Minervini’s earlier work.”

Unlike in the Official Competition, Un Certain Regard juries are given leeway to present special prizes of their own description, so a one-off Youth Prize was devised for French freshman director Louise Courvoisier’s “Holy Cow!” (or “Vingt Dieux”), which assembled a lively ensemble of first-time actors for its tale of a scrappy rural teen entering a regional cheese-making competition. A special mention, finally, was given to another debut feature: Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi’s drama “Norah,” a study of two village misfits bonded by a shared love of art, which world-premiered at last year’s Red Sea Film Festival.

Complete list of winners:

Prix Un Certain Regard: “Black Dog,” Guan Hu

Jury Prize: “The Story of Souleymane,” Boris Lojkine

Best Director: (ex aequo) “The Damned,” Roberto Minervini; “On Becoming a Guinea Fowl,” Rungano Nyoni

Performance Awards: “The Shameless,” Anasuya Sengupta; “The Story of Souleymane,” Abou Sangare

Prix de la Jeunesse (Youth Prize): “Holy Cow! (Vingt Dieux),” Louise Courvoisier

Special Mention: “Norah,” Tawfik Alzaidi

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