Review: My Stupid Dog
- In his adaptation of John Fante’s novel, Yvan Attal delivers a bitterly amusing comedy - bordering on existential drama - about life as part of a couple and as part of a family
"Four children who I would gladly have swapped for a new Porsche. My depression, my back ache, my lack of libido, my inability to write - it was all their fault." In the character of Henri, the protagonist of My Stupid Dog [+see also:
film profile] - a novel by cult American author John Fante (published in 1985) which Yvan Attal chose to adapt and relocate to the French Basque Coast – the actor-director has found fertile ground for a light-hearted yet ferocious comedy about a failing fifty-something artist’s mid-life crisis. Released in French cinemas today via StudioCanal ahead of its market premiere at the AFM (running 6 to 13 November), the film marks the last chapter in a highly personal cinematic trilogy which began with My Wife is an Actress [+see also:
film profile] (2001) and which continued with And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004), as the filmmaker is once again sharing the spotlight with Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is also his wife in real-life.
At 55 years old, Henri (Yvan Attal) is tired of his life in a beautiful villa, just a few hundred metres from the ocean and the La Rhune mountain-scape. Twenty-five years earlier, he wrote a bestseller which pulverised sales records and won almost all the literary prizes available, but since that time, he has only written “crap” and hauls his malaise and rather cynical sense of humour around with him in his day-to-day life. His wife Cécile (Charlotte Gainsbourg), powered by white wine and antidepressants, plays mother-hen to their four grown-up children who are yet to leave home: 25-year-old Raphaël (Ben Attal) who’s an inveterate smoker of weed, 24-year-old Pauline (Adèle Wismes) who insists on making a fuss of her military boyfriend, Noé (Pablo Venzal) who thinks of nothing but surfing and gets his mum to write his university essays, and Gaspard (Panayotis Pascot), the youngest and, seemingly, the most reasonable. "Do you know how hard it is to find inspiration with these parasites draining my brain and my bank account?", Henri complains to his publisher, dreaming of travelling back in time to Rome and to his younger days spent at the French Academy’s Villa Medici. But, for the time being, it will be an animal which brings change to his life, a massive, filthy, disobedient and sexually aggressive stray dog who bursts into their garden one night and makes itself comfy in their house. Henri takes a shine to him, christening him “Stupid”. He projects his own existence onto that of the animal ("this dog’s a champion through and though. No-one’s interested in him, just like they’re not interested in me. I fight and I lose every time. He fights and he wins") and the latter will soon bear witness to a huge cathartic crisis unfolding within the household…
A fun variation on the theme of the emptiness felt and the identity crises experienced by those of a romantic disposition, My Stupid Dog plays with the archetypal intricacies of the love-hate relationship which develops between long-term couples (in the words of his wife, Henri is "lazy, arrogant, selfish and a prick in all respects") and which manifests itself in exchanges between parents and their children, painting an acrid and rather accurate portrait via the magnifying glass that is the comedy genre. Both mellowed and fuelled by Henri’s disenchanted voice-over narration, the film references the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski on more than one occasion. But, first and foremost, and beyond the bitter laughs, it looks to highlight love’s ability to survive the test of time and the trials of life.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.