French director Luc Besson, known for his iconic films like “Léon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element,” received a heartwarming welcome at the Venice Film Festival for his latest work, “Dogman.” This Golden Lion contender might have divided critics, but the audience’s response was overwhelmingly positive during its world premiere, culminating in a remarkable six-minute standing ovation.
While Variety’s Jessica Kiang had mixed feelings about the film, calling it “numbskulled nonsense movie,” the audience at the gala premiere had a different sentiment. They showered the film and its creators with applause that lasted an impressive six minutes, a testament to the film’s impact on the audience. This standing ovation was on par with the enthusiastic reception that greeted Michael Mann‘s “Ferrari” earlier that evening, underscoring the festival’s electrifying atmosphere.
As the audience expressed their appreciation, Luc Besson, visibly moved by the warm reception, embraced his cast with heartfelt bear hugs. Notably, Besson shared a touching moment with the film’s star, Caleb Landry Jones, who had meticulously developed and refined his central role in collaboration with the director for an entire year before shooting began. Jones, with his unbuttoned collar and curly locks cascading over his face, basked in the adoration of the crowd. Besson playfully mussed the actor’s hair and pulled it back, allowing Jones to fully absorb the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience.
After the six minutes of cheers and applause, the filmmakers gracefully departed the spotlight, leaving the audience still buzzing with excitement and applause.
The world premiere of “Dogman” brought Luc Besson and cast members, including leading man Caleb Landry Jones, to Venice. Jones’s attendance was made possible by SAG-AFTRA, which granted an interim agreement to the cast amid the ongoing strike. Earlier in the evening, Adam Driver received a waiver to attend the world premiere of “Ferrari.”
“Dogman” revolves around Douglas (played by Jones), a young man scarred by life’s challenges who finds solace and redemption through his relationship with dogs. Luc Besson both wrote and directed the film, which boasts a talented ensemble cast, including Jojo T. Gibbs, Christopher Denham, Clemens Schick, Grace Palma, Marisa Berenson, and John Charles Aguilar.
This film marks Luc Besson’s Venice Film Festival competition debut and serves as his return to filmmaking since 2019’s “Anna.” Notably, “Dogman” also marks Besson’s first film since being officially cleared of sexual assault charges in France. The accusations arose in 2018 when Sand Van Roy, an actress who appeared in Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (2017), accused him of rape. In February 2019, French prosecutors dropped the case due to a lack of evidence. Following a second investigation, a judge dismissed the case in December 2021, and in June of this year, Besson was cleared of all charges by the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court.
In an exclusive interview with Variety at the Venice Film Festival, Besson addressed concerns about actors working with him in the wake of the trial. He stated, “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.”
“Dogman” is set to be released in France on September 27 by Apollo Films and EuropaCorp.