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Cannes is back, baby. After the pandemic saw off 2020 and led to a somewhat sedate 2021, the 2022 edition of the festival appears to have returned to its all-singing, all-dancing, up-all-night best. But while the human stars may have returned to the Croisette and its screens in force, what about their faithful companions? Have the cinematic dogs bounded back with the same sort of tail-wagging gusto?
As the festival nears its mid-point, critics have already circled a few “paw”tentials for the Palm Dog, the annual awards show celebrating the best canine performances across the official selection and various sidebars.
Undoubtedly the biggest blockbuster of the festival, Top Gun: Maverick, may have been more about the macho than the mutt, but Jennifer Connelly’s beagle Theo did throw dog-lovers a small bone in one scene and, according to Palm Dog founder Toby Rose, “gave canine kudos to Tom Cruise.”
Rose also highlights a number of Dalmatians in the Vicky Krieps-starring “royal romp” Corsage from director Marie Kreutzer, plus some Dobermanns in Maha Haj’s Mediterranean Fever that are all named after Arab poets. Then there’s Jasmine Trinca’s Marcel!, which sees Alba Rohrwacher’s eccentric artist actually searching for her beloved performing terrier (called, of course, Marcel).
But poochy pundits are clearly barking up the wrong Palme tree if there’s any suggestion that any of these are the four-legged frontrunners. By this stage of Cannes, there’s only one film with its snout ahead of the pack. And by some distance.
Riley Keough and Gina Gammell’s War Pony was originally called Beast, literally the name of the fluffy silver poodle at the center of the movie that gives a performance that is already getting critics hot under the collar. Adopted by lead character Bill, Beast (in real life, she’s called Brit) is often seen patiently waiting in the back of his car or babysitting her owner’s young children as he attempts to hustle his way around the Ridge Pine Reservation in South Dakota, and provides the backstory for one of his money-making schemes (poodle breeding).
Adding some emotional depth to War Pony’s current top dog status, Beast was also the beloved pet of co-writer Bill Reddy (although Reddy’s Beast was a pit bull) and a companion whose death actually ignited the fuse that led to the film.
“He had a real connection to the dog, and it really affected us all,” Keough told The Hollywood Reporter before the festival. “And I feel like that [the day he died] kind of inspired the whole film, and we were like, let’s make a story about Beast.”
Given the tendency for scene-stealing mutts to make dramatic late entrances in Cannes (see 2019 winner Brandy, Brad Pitt’s pit bull in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood), War Pony may not be home and dry for the Palm Dog just yet.
Speaking of ponies (sort of), it should also be noted that another animal has muzzled its way into the conversation, with many Cannes heads turned by the donkey — the lead role and title character — in Jerzy Skolimowski’s much-loved competition entry EO.
But Rose doggedly puts down any suggestions that War Pony’s Beast has any reason to be worried by this beast of burden’s efforts. “Each year an interloper species attempts to dislodge the king canine, and this year is no different,” he brays. “Palm Donkey? I don’t think so.”
The Palm Dog Award will be presented in Cannes on May 27 at 1 p.m. local time at the Members Club at Long Beach.
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