Monday 12 February 2024

Mubi Monday: Junkyard Dog (2023)

Friends are good. Friends can be arranged into whatever kind of family unit you want around you. They can also hold you back though, whether it is the friend who doesn’t mind watching you spend too much and drink too much on a big night out or the friend who suddenly thinks you have become snobby and fake as you try to improve your life. Junkyard Dog looks at his second scenario, sort of, but also underlines the importance of those strong bonds that will keep people together through the many ups and downs of life.

Anthony Bajon is Dog, a young man who has spent many years under the wing of his friend, protector, and tormentor, Mirales (Raphaël Quenard). Dog is often picked on, but it’s all done without malice, apparently, and the upside is that he has few major worries. That all changes when Dog develops a relationship with a young woman, Elsa (Galatéa Bellugi). Mirales isn’t happy when Dog looks to be enjoying plenty of time without him, and there may be trouble brewing that will lead to Dog wishing he still had his protective friend alongside him at the right time.

An impressive feature directorial debut from Jean-Baptiste Durand, who also worked on the screenplay with Nicolas Fleureau and Emma Benestan, Junkyard Dog is an enjoyable drama that maintains just the right levels of tension throughout without making the central situation unpalatably sour. It’s a snapshot of that moment when you bump into someone you grew apart from, remembering the good times you had together, but unable to say anything more meaningful than “how have you been?” before ending the conversation with well-intentioned lies about how you will catch up properly soon. We have all been in that kind of situation at least once and, while there is an extra layer of danger added in the form of Dog’s lifestyle, this shows the good and bad of sticking by those decisions.

Both Bajon and Quenard are very good in the main roles, the former being just the right mix of bravado and inexperience while the latter displays more anger and disrespect as he hides his own insecurity and hurt feelings. Bellugi is an excellent third point in a triangle she soon realises needs to be broken, or at least mounded into a more comfortable shape. She sees the good in Dog, but you can see how her perception is shifted whenever he lefts Mirales affect his happiness.

Although a French film, many film fans will find this a nice complementary work to a number of British films that have wandered through similar territory. Put this alongside almost any Shane Meadows film, for example, and you have an excellent double-bill exploring friendship and the imbalance that can occur when someone exploits their connection to someone vulnerable. Yet it also manages to avoid feeling like something we have seen a hundred times before.

A very good piece of work that rewards viewers with an ending that reminds us of how worthwhile these journeys can be, Junkyard Dog is recommended . . . but you need to be prepared for a lot of darkness before being shown some faint rays of light.


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