Color, 1978, 99 mins. 53 secs.
Directed by Alain Jessua
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Victor Lanoux, Nicole Calfan, Pierre Vernier, Fanny Ardant
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Studiocanal (Blu-ray & DVD) (France RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Though he was The Dogshardly the most prolific French filmmaker of his The Dogsgeneration, onetime Jacques Becker protege Alain Jessua managed to score three masterpieces in a row that comprised his entire 1970s output: Shock Treatment, Armageddon, and Les chiens or The Dogs. All of them examine the anxieties of modern society ranging from fear of aging to the link between media addiction and terrorism, but in this case, the only one of the trio without star Alain Delon, he takes aim at the zealous need for protection that can rot into tribalism and violence.

In a mid-sized French town built next to several industrial factories, new physician Dr. Henri Ferret (Cousin Cousine's Lanoux) and his nurse (Ardant in one of her earliest roles) find themselves treating an unusual number of dog bites. Meanwhile a young woman, Elisabeth (The Burglars' Calfan), is brutally assaulted while walking home late at night and decides that she needs to go with the current trend in town: owning a vicious attack dog. This method of protection is the handiwork of charismatic dog trainer and breeder Morel (Depardieu), who has an almost Svengali-like ability to hold the populace under sway by instilling fear of outsiders.

Obviously this film hasn't dated at all in its depiction of a group think influenced to fear "them," in this case including immigrants and The Dogsanyone of The Dogsa different skin color. Jessua doesn't beat you over the head with his message though; instead the film has an austere and chilling atmosphere with lots of cold, steely colors and characters who never quite seem to say what they really mean. The three leads are all excellent with Depardieu obviously getting the showiest role, while Calfan pulls off the most terrifying moment late in the film that shouldn't be spoiled here. The fact that this film was made in Europe and isn't as explicit in its commentary on racism meant that it didn't suffer a fate as hostile as Samuel Fuller's later White Dog, which shares some clear shared themes, but then again this one also didn't really play theatrically much outside of Europe either. The depiction of social unrest randomly bursting out of a planned community also makes this feel somewhat akin to Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge released a few months after this, all films that still pack a punch today.

Unfortunately The Dogs never received a commercial release of any kind in the U.S. until the 2022 Blu-ray from Severin, which arrived a few months after the Blu-ray debut in France from Studiocanal (as a combo pack with a DVD as part of Jean-Baptiste Thoret's "Make My Day" series, albeit with no English subtitles). In fact, this marks The Dogsthe first English-friendly official release of any kind, so you can toss out any fan subtitled editions now with confidence. The new 2K The Dogsscan from the negative looks pleasing and about on par with your usual Studiocanal catalog title, with good color and detail throughout. The DTS-HD MA French 2.0 mono track is also in good shape, with optional yellow English subtitles. The featurette "Hounds and Music" (26m30s) with composer René Koering is a sequel of sorts to his interview on Severin's Shock Treatment release covering more about his influences and background as a composer as well as his creative process with his director. Then "Jessua Lives" (33m45s) with Culturopoing critic Emmanuel Le Gagne provides a thorough overview of Jessua's career including some abandoned projects and professional setbacks, as well as the themes running through his work and some of the later gems in his output that haven't played much outside of France. The original French trailer is also included with English subtitles.

Reviewed on November 24, 2022.