It’s a wintry late afternoon in Paris and the l’homme de la fourerer (the dog catcher), is screaming. “Everybody wants a dog for the holiday! Or for their children’s pleasure. Merde! [Shit] They are not toys! Merde! They are not toys! Nobody pays attention to anything. In what shitworld do we live? And after, what? It’s us who have to get the dog. She is beautiful, non, humanity? Me, I don’t believe anymore in humans. It’s finished!”
And there you have it: Un Homme et Son Chien, a dark film about loss, disillusionment, age and loneliness and one bright light in an old man’s heart: his love for his dog. In what’s said to be Jean-Paul Belmondo’s final film, the French movie icon best known for his rakish gangster roles and jaunty seduction of the world’s great beauties plays a man with the emotional and physical frailties of his own real age. A few years ago, Belmondo, now 75, suffered a massive stroke, as does his character Charles, and ironically also lost his dog in Paris.“It’s me without any special effects,” he said in the interview he granted to his old friend, TV host Michel Drucker. In real life, the veteran of more than 80 films made a dramatic recovery, found his dog and took a dazzlingly young Italian mistress. In Un Homme et Son Chien, we find an alternate reality.
“Charles,”Belmondo said,“could be any man.”
Widowed and fragile, Charles and Mon Chien (“my dog”) live in his ex-mistress’s magnificent Parisian apartment, until the arrangement feels “inconvenient” to the woman and she throws him out. That day, he is felled by a stroke and hospitalized. Mon Chien is cared for by the ex-mistress’s kind servant (the stunning Hafsia Herzi). When Charles returns to claim his dog, he learns that a handyman let Mon Chien loose on the streets of Paris. In one especially poignant scene, a bereft Charles cries out “Mon Chien!” in the gilded ballroom of the Hotel Intercontinental in Paris. The anguished old man, still immaculately dressed, is told to leave.
Miraculously, Mon Chien is found in the city pound on that winter day. But Charles’s health is failing and his resources are diminished. Racing against his own mortality, he is determined to find a loving home for Mon Chien. The young servant is the most obvious choice, but when she turns up pregnant, Charles knows there is no place for Mon Chien with her. The two begin their journey through Paris and its stratified society. An elegant high heel clicks a door shut in Charles’s face. An old friend glibly chats about Mon Chien but fails to acknowledge Charles’s straits and leaves without looking back. A middle-aged woman rails against Mon Chien, blaming her own dog for her husband’s infidelity.A homeless man at a Restaurant du Coeur, a soup kitchen, tells Charles, “The state took everything from me, everything, even my dog.”
Just as we think it can’t get bleaker, there is a sliver of hope. Mon Chien runs to a young black family sitting at a café, and they seem enchanted by the little dog. Charles is convinced that Mon Chien has found a good home. As the movie nears its close, we see Charles standing on the railroad tracks in Paris; for him, suicide is more noble than dying on the street. Through a tunnel a train hurtles toward him, when suddenly, Mon Chien reappears, barking furiously.
Though Un Homme et Son Chien is said to be a remake of Vittorio De Sica’s 1952 neorealistic Umberto D, the current film—directed by Francis Huster, who also makes a cameo appearance—speaks more to the human condition than it does to post-war isolation. The sober movie outraged much of the French press, which does not like to see its sexy icons age onscreen. “What’s Left of Belmondo?” the weekly magazine Le Point asked. “One can only be staggered by this portrayal of decrepitude and this disillusioned universe where the only point of interest is …a dog.”
As the film comes to a close, the audience in the little movie house in Saint Remy-de-Provence—a chic French village filled with hôtels particuliers, many converted into museums or art galleries— is silent as the credits run, but as they leave, they are abuzz with questions: What happened? What does it mean? Is the ending happy or sad? What happens next?
To me, the conclusion is evident. Charles chooses fidelity over loss, love over disillusionment. In the end, Charles and Mon Chien are together, and that is all we need to know.