Dir: Yann Dedet. France. 2002. 95 mins.
A quirky, unassuming first feature from highly respected editor Yann Dedet, Le Pays Du Chien Qui Chante displays a number of agreeable qualities without every blossoming into compelling viewing. Possessed of a gentle nature and a quiet humour, it may charm a few festival-goers but it is too slight and far too whimsical to survive in the real world of brutal commercial concerns.
Renowned for his collaborations with such significant French directors as Francois Truffaut, Maurice Pialat, Manuel Poirier and Claire Denis, Dedet has been a comparative stranger to the director's chair making only two short films and a documentary over the past 30 years.
His feature debut follows a Japanese couple as they relocate to a small, sun-dappled village in the heart of the Jura Mountains. Toyo is a musicologist drawn to the area by a tales of a local man who owned a singing dog. His wife Yoshiko is there to embark on a comparative study of religious dwellings.
Maintaining the same traditions they would observe at home, the kimono-clad couple are a source of considerable curiosity for the local community. Toyo practices archery whilst Yoshiko tends her gravel garden. Soon enough, they are sampling the delights of fondue and enjoying the hospitality at a village dance. At this point, the film seems to have set its course as a wry comedy of manners, content to observe the humorous interplay between the natives and the outsiders.
The fish out of water element also lays expectations for a more conventional kind of comedy, perhaps incorporating some of the freshness that a Jim Jarmusch or a Percy Adlon might have brought to the material. The reality is rather different and much less satisfying. The couple wander into the woods, pursuing their individual obsessions and gradually ingratiate themselves with their new friends and neighbours. Then, Toyo notices that his wife has acquired an admirer and encourages her to spend time with him in the belief that he will provide their marriage with a son and heir. But a twist of fate ensures that his plan doesn't proceed as expected.
Le Pays Du Chien Qui Chante is very easy on the eye. The sharp summer light lends an inviting glow to the scenes of sunsets and dawns, green fields and thick forests. The characters are original and the story unpredictable. Individual moments are laced with comedy and filled with interest but gradually it becomes apparent that this is all the film will have to offer and it is not enough. Curiouser and curiouser as it progresses, it begins to feel like a shaggy dog story that required a firmer hand and a sharper screenplay to make the most of its ideas. Ultimately, it becomes the kind of unfathomable little film that leaves you to ponder exactly what it was trying to convey.
Prod co: Maia Films
Int'l sales: Mercure
Prod: Gilles Sandoz
Scr: Dedet, Stephane Bouquet
Cinematography: Nathalie Durand
Prod des: Christophe Offret
Ed: Mathile Muyard
Main cast: Katsuko Nakamura, Gen Shimaoka, Dominique Piard, Jules Dedet