“Dogman” director Luc Besson might be a newcomer to Venice, but following his film’s warm reception on Thursday, he’s likely to come back.
Though Besson’s Golden Lion contender polarized critics, with Variety’s Jessica Kiang sparing few words by calling it a “numbskulled nonsense movie,” audience members at the film’s gala premiere opted to spread the love at its world premiere, showering the film and filmmakers with six minutes of sustained applause. That tied the six-minute ovation Venice audiences gave Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” earlier in the evening on the second night of the prestigious festival.
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If Besson offered no closing thoughts, the director nevertheless appeared visibly moved, beaming under the spotlight and embracing his cast with bear hugs. Besson shared a particularly tender moment with star Caleb Landry Jones, with whom he developed and honed the central role over the course of a full year before the cameras ever rolled.
As Jones stood before the adoring crowd with an unbuttoned collar and locks of curly hair falling over his face, his “Dogman” director gave him a loving chide, gently mussing the actor’s hair and pulling it back to better take in the warm, eager crowd.
After six minutes of cheers, the filmmakers quietly left the spotlight, leaving a still buzzy crowd clapping in their stead.
Besson attended the world premiere of “Dogman” alongside cast members such as leading man Caleb Landry Jones, who was able to attend the event after SAG-AFTRA permitted the cast an interim agreement amid the ongoing strike. Adam Driver was also granted a waiver to attend the world premiere of “Ferrari” earlier in the evening.
“Dogman” follows Douglas (Jones), a “boy bruised by life” who “finds his salvation through dogs,” according to the film’s official synopsis. Besson wrote and directed the movie, which also stars Jojo T. Gibbs, Christopher Denham, Clemens Schick, Grace Palma, Marisa Berenson and John Charles Aguilar.
Besson, known for “Léon: The Professional” (1994), “The Fifth Element” (1997) and “Lucy” (2014), makes his Venice Film Festival competition debut with “Dogman.” Jones, best known for “Get Out,” had a breakthrough moment at Cannes Film Festival in 2021 when he won the best actor award for his starring role in “Nitram.”
“Dogman” marks Besson’s first film since 2019’s “Anna,” as well as his first since being officially cleared of sexual assault charges in France. In 2018, Besson was accused of rape by Sand Van Roy, who appeared in his 2017 movie “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” In February 2019, French prosecutors dropped the case against him due to lack of evidence. After a second investigation, a judge dismissed the case in December 2021 and in June of this year, he was cleared of all charges by the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court.
In an exclusive interview with Variety out of Venice, Besson was asked if he’s concerned that actors won’t want to work with him because of the rape trial. He answered: “That’s not my problem. I’ve been trying to focus on my work for the last several years. I consider myself an artist and the most important thing to me is to write good scripts, like ‘Dogman.’ I want to write better and better stories because I only have a few more films to make – and in 20 years, the only thing that will remain are the movies.”
The film is scheduled to be released in France on Sept. 27 by Apollo Films and EuropaCorp.
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