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  Baxter Meaner Than A Junkyard DogBuy this film here.
Year: 1989
Director: Jérôme Boivin
Stars: Lise Delamare, Jean Mercure, Jacques Spessier, Catherine Ferran, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Sabrina Luerquin, Daniel Rialet, Evelyne Didi, Rémy Carpentier, Jany Gastaldi, François Driancourt, Ève Ziberlin, Malcolm Scrannage, Léa Gabriele, Maxime Leroux
Genre: Drama
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is the story of Baxter (voiced by Maxime Leroux), a bull terrier who wanted a happy life, but found the contentment he craved among the humans somewhat lacking. At first he was given to Madame Deville (Lisa Delamare), who was unconvinced that she needed a dog in her life, after all, as her friend Mr Cuzzo (Jean Mercure) pointed out, the other old ladies who owned such pets tended to let themselves go pretty drastically, and she didn't want to end up like that in her twilight years, she wanted dignity. But her dog breeder daughter gave her Baxter as a gift, and it was not a good match...

A strange little film, which never goes quite as far as you expect it to but remains oddly troubling nonetheless, Baxter is the antithesis of all those kids' movies where the dog is man's best friend, and a plucky hero that will capture the hearts of the audience in a sentimental fashion: sentimental this is not. It was scripted by director Jérôme Boivin and Jacques Audiard from Ken Greenhall's novel, and is decidedly non-Disney in its approach, even if it does have a talking dog as a protagonist. Perhaps the character Baxter is closest to is Blood from A Boy and his Dog, although this pooch fails to communicate meaningfully with the boy who eventually becomes his master.

Madame Deville isn't actually that keen on dogs, and is scared of Baxter at first, but he isn't scared of her, as he doesn't like her much at all, not trusting her smell and the way she treats him so gingerly. Yet the worry she had that getting a pet dog would affect her mind comes true, and she ends up a senile wreck, not going out and refusing to answer Mr Cuzzo when he calls. Baxter, the ruthless character that he is, opts for serious action and when she has got to past the stage of any sense, he trips her on the stairs, killing her. The dog has no compunction about killing, and the film genuinely creates an animalistic personality for him that seems alien.

But not so alien that you do not understand him; this is somewhat hampered by the fact that the thoughts we are privy to on the soundtrack don't appear to the thoughts that are going through the head of the terrier playing the title role, as he doesn't look to be bothered about finding the right master, or killing anyone when his situation doesn't suit him, at all. If you can ignore the obliviousness on the visage of the mutt, then Boivin does work hard at conjuring a mood of menace as Baxter is handed to each different owner, all of whom are unaware of his scheming and self-confessed lack of fear and love.

What Baxter wants is an owner who meets his exacting standards, and if that means he has to intimidate his way to that goal, then so be it. However, Baxter frequently lets himself down by his compulsion to follow orders, whether it's the "Heel!" of his master or nature telling him to mate with a dog that's in heat: the whole making babies thing disgusts him, and when his next owners, a sweet couple who live across the way, have a baby, he is determined to kill it so he can regain his place in their affections. Poor Baxter never does find his perfect match, and his final master is a Nazi-obsessed teenager who treats the dog as if he were a soldier, but when he sets him on a friend in the hope he will savage the boy, Baxter refuses. Part of what makes the film so odd is that its themes are such a muddle, as you're left guessing as to whether this is a hard, emotionless look at how people are exploited by their pets, or the other way around, or perhaps a look at the machinations that allow fascism to breed in hypocritical humans, as opposed to the intuitive animals. Music by Marc Hillman and Patrick Roffé.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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