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Baxter is the name of the titular dog at the center of this odd French horror picture from 1989, directed by Jérôme Boivin. It's a quirky and often times darkly comedic film that presents much of what happens from the aforementioned dog's point of view, which gives it a very unique cinematic voice while Boivin's directing style brings a strong arthouse sensibility to much of what we see happen as the film's story plays out.
As to what that story is all about, Florence Morel (Catherine Ferran) gives her mother, Madame Deville (Lise Delamare) a white bull-terrier named Baxter as a surprise gift one day. Florence knows that her aging mother is lonely these days and she figures that Baxter would make a great companion for her. And in a way, she's right. Madame Deville is, at first, a little frightened of the dog but Florence's instincts were correct and she winds up keeping him around just because in many ways he makes good company for her.
Baxter, however, feels very differently about all of this. He finds life with Madame Deville to be a complete and total bore and he decides that he'd rather be rid of her all together. As such, he murders her but stages it in such a way as to make it look like a total accident. With Madame Deville out of the picture, Baxter is taken in by the family that lived next door to her, a much younger couple who he finds live up to his expectations, keeping him engaged and interested in life in general. This all changes when the woman in the couple gets pregnant. Baxter knows right away that something is changing and when the baby is born, Baxter is immediately, and quite obviously, jealous of the new arrival.
Through a series of mishaps, Baxter winds up being sold off to Charles (François Driancourt), a twelve-year-old boy whose fascination with Hitler's life and times (and the fact that he and Eva Braun owned a dog) decides to take on the dog as another piece of memorabilia in his crazy Hitler collection. When Charles trains Baxter to act in the manner he's prefer (which isn't good), the dog takes a night off for a tryst with a show dog who lives nearby, as his bond with Charles grows as intense as it is seriously bizarre.
Boivin delivers a movie that is as unique as it is engaging, a strange picture that manages to let us see things from Baxter's point of view and even let us sympathize with him even as he does something as sinister as to try and take out a newborn. It works a lot better than you might expect, given that most films that involve talking animals are that show things from their point of view end up being goofy, sugary crap. Baxter is not crap. It's a genuinely enthralling film, all killer no filler. Boivin directs well and keeps things moving at a really good clip, wrapping everything up really nicely in just under an hour-and-a-half's time.
The performances from the human actors are all pretty strong. Everyone ‘works' in their part, delivering believable work that allows us to accept them in their roles. The film is shot with a decent amount of style and the cinematography is good, as is the score. Production values are quite good overall, and this one just works. Great stuff.
Baxter arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and Code Red in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 taken from as master we can safely assume was supplied by Studio Canal. The feature takes up 21Bs of space on the 25GB disc and overall it looks very nice. Colors sometimes lean towards a bit of a green hue but detail is quite strong here and there are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement related problems. The picture is very clean from start to finish, you'll be pretty hard pressed to find any print damage here of note. Skin tones look good, black levels are fine. Yeah, this works quite nicely.
A 24-bit French language DTS-HD options is provided in 2.0 Stereo format with subtitles offered up in English only. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also included (though you can't access it from the menu screen and it isn't mentioned on the packaging at all… but if you play around with your remote you'll find it!). The lossless track is of very good quality, with nicely balanced levels and clean sounding dialogue. The score also sounds nice. No issues here.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by filmmaker Mark Savage. He talks about the novel that inspired the film and how he came to be familiar with it as well as the different titles it has gone under, differences between the novel and the film adaptation, the unique structure of the film, comparisons to The Tin Drum, how the film and the book compare to other movies and novels about animals made around the same time, details on the cast and crew, info on Jérôme Boivin's career, the themes that the film explores, how the film came to be made by and financed by French producers, the skewed perspective of the narrative, a visual nod to Cruising (maybe an unintentional one but he isn't wrong in the comparison) and lots more. It's a solid, well-informed track that offers plenty of welcome background details on the production as well as some critical analysis and personal observations.
Additionally, the disc includes bonus trailers for Slow Dancing In The Big City, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, 9/30/55, Diva, The Outsider and Dogs.
Baxter is a unique and inspired mix of horror and dark comedy, a picture that occasionally succeeds in making you think but which never fails in entertaining its audience. Kino Lorber brings this underappreciated gem of a film to Blu-ray with a very nice transfer and a strong audio commentary as its main extra feature. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.