Baxter (1989)

Synopsis:

A cute Bull Terrier recalls his life with various owners.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Beware of the dog that thinks!”

Have you ever wondered what your pet is thinking? I often do. This sardonic French black comedy answers what pet owners have asked themselves from the beginning of times. And, trust me, after watching this movie, you may say to yourself, “why did I ask?”

Imagine Benji or Beethoven being directed by Billy Wilder (The Apartment) and you’ll get an idea of how the movie operates. Cynical irony saturates the film, so this is the perfect movie for viewers who find dog movies too cute, too sentimental — don’t let the adorable dog deceive you, this is a naughty film through and through.

Baxter was directed by Jérôme Boivin. He wrote the script with Jacques Audiard (A Prophet and Rust and Bone), an adaptation of American writer Ken Greenhall’s 1977 novel Hell Hound. The movie is told mostly from the perspective of the dog and his observations about humans are not only hilarious, but also on point. As soon as our four-legged hero finds out that humans are not trustworthy, he decides to adopt a philosophy of self-interest that has mostly tragic consequences.

At times Baxter is hard to watch — the truth is often painful — but there is something fascinating about using a dog as a barometer of the human experience. Suburban life is the film’s main target, but Baxter manages to touch upon many complex issues. The film takes an unexpectedly dark, very dark turn towards the end and you have to admire a film that is willing to leave a bad taste in the mouth of viewers.

The title character is a scene-stealer (actor Maxime Leroux provides the dog’s voice). I don’t know where they found him, but he’s irresistible (a nihilist Benji!) — even when he behaves badly, you are always on his side. And kudos to director Boivin for eliciting a great performance from the canine — the human actors just can’t compete!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Baxter is one of those movies that puts people and society under a microscope. Idealist viewers will probably have a hard time accepting some of the film’s observations and conclusions — the film won’t reinforce your faith in humanity. Personally, I found the film’s moral universe interesting to say the least — this is an unsettling, gusty satire that explores many important problems. Color, 83 minutes, Rated R.

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