MK2 Films Unveils First Clip of ‘Dog on Trial,’ as Helmer Laetitia Dosch Talks Dogs, Justine Triet and Shakespeare (EXCLUSIVE)

The Swiss/French “Dog on Trial” is set to disrupt, move and entertain the Croisette from what is revealed in a first clip from sales outfit MK2 Films, exclusively shared with Variety.

The film world premieres at Cannes Un Certain Regard May 19.

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Writer/actor-turned-director Laetitia Dosch, who delivered what Variety reviewer Peter Debruge called a ‘blazing-wildfire performance’ in the 2017 Camera d’or winner “Jeune Femme”, is herself taking a chance this year on the coveted award. Meanwhile Cosmos the Dog (aka Kodi in the film) will battle for the leather dog collar Palme Dog win.

As the main protagonist Alice, Dosch wears an attorney’s gown to defend the four-legged Cosmos, accused of multiple bite attacks. Known for taking up lost causes, she will rise to the challenge, confront the legal system and advocate both for animal rights and women’s rights.

Next to Dosch and the dog Kodi, the ensemble cast consists of François Damiens, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Anne Dorval, Anabela Moreira and Mathieu Demy.

The film, produced by Switzerland’s Bande à Part with France’s Atelier de Production, is being offered to worldwide buyers in Cannes by MK2 Films.

The film will be released by The Jokers in France and Pathé Films in Switzerland.

Variety spoke to Dosch.

You are a Cannes habitué-having starred in the 2017 Camera d’or winner “Jeune Femme” (“Montparnasse Bienvenue”), “Simple Passion” in 2020, “Acid” in 2023. This year you appear in the Cannes Premiere’s “Jim’s Voice”, and in your directorial debut “Dog on Trial”. Tell us about your special bond with the festival?

My first time in Cannes was actually in 2013 with Justine Triet’s “Age of Panic.” It was a cool Cannes as it screened at the ACID section. We were eating pizza all the time! The film made a lot of noise and we got a lot of media coverage. So yes, I have a wonderful history with Cannes. This year, being selected with my debut is amazing, all the more as it’s a comedy and comedies aren’t that common in Cannes.

A propos Justine Triet, there’s a very funny anecdote about her. We met on a train four years ago. She said, “I’m writing a film about a trial.” I said…”Me too!” She said: “There is a dog in it.” I said: “Me too!” She said: “There is a blind person in it” and I said…”Me too!” Then she said: “a child has a big part in it” and I said…”Me too!” I got really anxious that we might be doing the same film and that I was f***ed. It was a coincidence of course, but what a coincidence!

You’ve played on stage with a horse as sole companion in the play “Hate.” Now you’re defending a dog in court. Tell us about your fascination for animals and wish to explore human’s ambiguous relationship with them?

We are animals ourselves, which we tend to forget as we’ve cut our link to the natural world. I’m very worried about the environment and interested in exploring the role culture can play in this climate crisis, as people’s mindsets are finally changing.

Otherwise, I grew up surrounded by animals. My grandfather was an ornithologist. He was saving birds and our home was filled with them, as well as stuffed animals. From an early age, I had a special relationship with animals and started to question the way we behave with them, as well as all living things. We have a complicated relationship with animals, but also with vegetables. We use them, we don’t consider them.

What was the starting point for the story?

Right after my play “Hate” with the horse, someone came to me and told me a story about a case involving a dog in a small French town, that made a lot of mess. There were demonstrations, petitions. Everyone went crazy. Then I started to do research and realised there were different stories with dogs – mostly with their masters on trial, which triggered violent reactions from people. Then I read about this strange case in Switzerland where a dog was “sentenced to death.” There was an appeal at the Court of Human Rights, and despite the appeal, the dog was euthanized.

I started to think – I’d love to do a comedy where the master would not be on trial but the dog itself. It would be an interesting starting point to discuss animal status, human status, and our relationship.

Comedy is perhaps one of the hardest genres to write. How was it to try to find the right tone?

Getting the right balance was indeed key to me. I wanted a film which would constantly shift tone –sometimes vulgar, mysterious, humoristic with different shades – and spiritual and dark. So it was challenging to make it look coherent. The dialogues were also challenging– we had to work on the rhythm, like a musical score.

I’ve written several plays before. You don’t change location very much. With this film, I was thrilled to do this for every scene.

How was it to direct for the first time, on top of writing and starring in the lead?

The toughest thing was actually post-production. I had plenty of experience with set work and script writing, but I knew very little about editing and sound work. Editing is so fascinating. This is where the true film takes shape and it can go in any direction. You can make 25 different films, so you have to really focus on what you want to say. That was a bit unnerving at the beginning. My main editor, Susana Pedro, was a huge help. Sound is also so important and I never really thought about this before.

There is an old-fashion adage in film which says -working with kids and animals is the hardest ever. How was it for you?

I really disagree with this saying. Of course, children and animals are unpredictable, but they do give you a lot. Regarding my work with the dog Kodi [Cosmos on screen), we rehearsed a lot with the dog trainers. On set, the dog had its moments, but we would shoot on average 10 minutes a day. What was funny is that in the script, I wanted Cosmos to howl like a wolf. Kodi couldn’t do this. We panicked a bit. Eventually the dog trainers found a solution. When they looked at the dog and imitated a little hungry kitten, he would howl. It was about finding the triggers to create the right reaction in the dog.

Do you have a dog?

No. But it’s a good question, which relates to one of the themes in the movie – our conflicted relationship with animals. At the end of the movie, I discuss the way we mould dogs the way we want them to be. I do love dogs, but at the same time, I would feel guilty having one. I don’t want a dog which would belong to me, like an object. That said, if one day a dog ends up at my door, I will most likely let him in.

Your final plea before the verdict is the highpoint as in classic courtroom dramas. What was your inspiration?

Actually, I had read Robert Badinter’s book “Abolition – One Man’s Battle Against the Death Penalty.” In it, he describes how trials are held, people’s reactions, etc. I was inspired by his book. Regarding my plea, I wanted it to be lyrical. I’m a big Shakespeare fan, as a regular stage actor. Most of his plays have long lyrical sonnets. It’s beautiful. I tried to do what Shakespeare does!

Being an actor yourself, how was it to give instructions to your cast?

You mean how was my relationship between me and myself?? Casting was like putting a theatre troupe together and directing came naturally. I love feeding fellow actors with material, and allowing them to improvise, to be creative. I was very moved by them. In France, it’s a bit hard to find actors willing to go over the top, and still remain honest. U.S. actors love this kind of work. We see it in the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson movies. In the U.K., I love that type of performance in the TV show “Fleebag.” In France, we don’t use that kind of humour, so I was very lucky to find actors with different backgrounds – Jean-Pascal Zadi is from Cote d’Ivoire France, Francois Damien is from Belgium, Anne Dorval from Quebec.

What would you like people to take away from watching the film?

I discuss topical issues such as the way we treat animals, women, children. But it’s also about your own harassment. We tend to beat up ourselves, to be something or someone else. So it’s about men and women, adults and kids, humans and dogs, but also about women and themselves. Most importantly, it’s a movie to make people feel happy and entertained.

Switzerland is the country focus at the market. How important is it for you to carry the Swiss flag at Un Certain Regard?

This is very important to me. It’s a film about Switzerland, my vision of Switzerland. I lived there for five years and Switzerland has been very generous with me. They’ve produced my first play, now my first feature. They‘ve always been very enthusiastic, even if my work is singular, a bit quirky. So I owe them a lot.

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