CANNES, France - A wily terrier called Uggy who gives a stunning silent film performance in Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist" scooped Cannes' unofficial canine award, the Palm Dog, on Friday.
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs and bitches, welcome to the Palm Dog 2011," journalist Toby Rose said at the start of the much-anticipated awards ceremony on the Mediterranean beach front.
The grand jury prize went to Laika, reportedly a fifth generation Aki Kaurismaki pup in the Finnish director's film about illegal immigration in France called Le Havre.
Journalist Kate Muir announced Uggy's award "for one of the best performances ever in the history of the award... a lovely terrier."
The prize was received on behalf of Uggy by his "pen pal" Apple, a Jack Russell bitch.
Accepting the award of a dog collar and a bottle of gin on behalf of the film's distributors, Wild Bunch, a staff member named Alia said: "I don't know what the award is but if it's this bottle I'll make sure he has it. I don't know if he'll drink it."
The Artist sees Uggy playing the hero's constant companion throughout the film's emotional roller-coaster ride, providing a performance that is at once clever and versatile.
"The high canine quotient in the official selection has made the Palm Dog more than ever a Cannes conversation topic," said Rose, showing a photo of Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton wearing the collar that is the award.
"She is the Palm Dog pinup 2011," Rose said. "There's stardust DNA on the coveted collar."
There was almost rabid competition for the prize, now in its 11th year, including from the star of Red Dog, a film about a pooch who travels across Australia.
Another contender was the dog in "Fairy", who gets into a hotel despite not being allowed and subsequently sows chaos.
The jury said that Friday morning's showing of This Must Be The Place in the festival's twilight had "dogs everywhere, including on David Byrne's head" but did not win a prize.
Mark from Finland received the prize on behalf of Laika but refused to telephone Kaurismaki to clarify the growing mystery over the dog's exact breed.
"Laika was very happy and feeling the roots of the family, the passion of the role," said Mark, declining to give a last name.
Laika, reportedly the daughter of the 2002 Palm Dog winner, showed "textbook dog running-walking," said Rose as he showed extracts from the winning roles.
The Palm Dog was won last year by Boss the boxer in Tamara Drewe by Stephen Frears, with the special jury award going to Vuk, the goatherd's dog in Le Quattro Volte by Michelangelo Frammartino.
Rose, who created the award in 2001 in honor of his own dog Mutley, now deceased, is also doing his bit for dogs in Britain, where he runs the Fidos awards at London Film Festival.
Image: Jamie Davies / via Flickr