Baxter | Chicago Reader

Baxter

Jerome Boivin's 1988 French feature about a dog and its relationship to its owners, narrated in a human voice (Maxime Leroux), is a few cuts below Samuel Fuller's White Dog, not to mention Robert Bresson's still greater Au hasard Balthazar (about the life of a donkey), two films with a related tragic undertow. But it's also infinitely superior to Look Who's Talking—a more irreverent parallel that comes to mind before one gets used to the conceit of a “nonverbal” narrator. Used largely as a satirical ploy to comment on the human characters, Baxter is a bull terrier owned successively by a fussy old woman (Lise Delamare), a newlywed couple (Evelyn Didi and Jean Mercure), and finally a disturbed little boy (Francois Driancourt) who's obsessed with Hitler. It's entirely to the credit of Boivin and cowriter Jacques Audiard—and presumably their source novel, Ken Greenhall's Hell Hound—that the apparent anthropomorphism of the canine hero eventually proves to be both superficial and deceptive; the divergence between animals and humans—specifically between an amoral dog and a premoral boy—proves to be much more important. An unusual film that's likely to stick in your craw in unexpected ways.

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