Guan Hu's Black Dog, in Un Certain Regard selection at the Cannes Film Festival 2024: Our opinion

Published by Manon de Sortiraparis · Published on May 18th, 2024 at 02:15 p.m.
Guan Hu's Black Dog was unveiled in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival 2024. Read our review.

2008, on the edge of the Gobi Desert. On the eve of the Beijing Olympics, Lang(Eddie Peng) is released from prison and returns to his hometown, where he meets up with Uncle Yao (played by Jia Zhangke, himself in Official Competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival). While working for the local patrol, responsible for ridding the city of stray dogs, the young man befriends one of them, a slightly battered black dog, as rickety as a greyhound, who is even said to have rabies. This encounter marks a new beginning for these two lonely souls.

In his new film, Black Dog, presented in the Un Certain Regard selection, Hu Guan films China as few imagine it. Far from overcrowded cities, the landscape is one of vast empty spaces - where stray dogs gallop like wild horses - filmed like the Wild West in cinemascope and swept by long, slow pans and travellings. A breathtaking atmosphere and an almost mystical ambience in the heart of this lunar landscape, between midnight-blue hills and charcoal mounds.

It's a deindustrialized China, deserted but hardly verdant, a China emptied of its inhabitants (or rather filled... of emptiness andliminal spaces, an abandoned zoo, entire neighborhoods of buildings about to be razed to the ground) that serves as the backdrop for Lang, a mute convict who seems as empty as his surroundings, and by extension for Hu Guan's half-hearted denunciation of certain practices in his country, in particular the condition of animals - dogs, tigers and snakes alike.

If everyone is looking for their cat, Lang has certainly found his dog, and this wordless friendship, against all odds, is a sign of resilience and reintegration into society. As a totem animal, the dog gives him renewed taste and hope in human society, as he watches his fellow creatures being hunted down. Even pets are torn away from their families to be sold like cattle; in the film, China applies the scorched earth theory to eliminate all the country's stray dogs before the Olympic Games.

In a way, Black Dog could be the Chinese counterpart to Matteo Garrone's Dogman (Best Actor Award for Marcello Fonte at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival), in its ability to upend the nothingness of an abandoned town and rest an anti-hero's salvation on the shoulders of a simple dog.

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The Cannes Film Festival returns to the Croisette for its 77th edition from May 14 to 25, 2024. Click here for all the latest news and information! [Read more]

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