Insights into how Messi, canine star of Anatomy of a Fall, acted in the film

Messi has become a canine film star thanks to his prominent role in the 2023 French legal drama/thriller film, directed by Justine Triet from a screenplay she co-wrote with Arthur Harari. The film has secured five Oscar nominations.

Unsurprisingly, Messi is an 8-year-old, black-and-white border collie, a breed known for their intelligence.

He lives with Laura Martin Contini, a professional animal trainer. Messi was named, as you have probably guessed, after the world’s best footballer, Argentian Lionel Messi, by Contini’s then four-year-old son.

Contini and Messi in a studio photo by Laura Martin Contini
Contini and Messi in a studio photo by Laura Martin Contini. If there is a copyright problem please tell me in a comment. Thanks.
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In the film Messi the dog plays dead. It is a trick that has helped to bring him fame. Laura Martin Contini heard that Justine Triet was looking to cast a dog for her new film. She knew that Triet was not fussed about the breed of dog but wanted a dog that was able to play dead as this was an important feature of the film.

Two months before casting for the role, Contini set about training Messi to play dead. As we know he won the role; delighting Contini.

In most films – except for Lassie – dog actors are required for a short time but Messi’s part required him to be on set for six weeks.

Throughout filming Contini was present and close by, out of shot, making gestures and/or calling out commands. In respect of dog training and acting, Contini laughingly said that, “You can’t give them a long list of things to do and expect them to work through it”.

Messi plays Snoop the companion of the partially-sighted son and he sees the fall from a balcony. Snoop plays a pivotal role in the trial as I understand it but I have not read the spoiler alert as I want to watch the film!

During filming, The Sunday Times (Jan 18th Feb 2024) reports that Contini and Messi shared a chalet with the rest of the film’s cast and Sandra Hüller, a German actress who plays a German writer accused of pushing her partner to his death at their Alpine chalet.

Contini said that “We were really living together as a family. He [Messi] got to know everyone.”

Peter Conradi, the Paris-based Sunday Times journalist met up with Contini and Messi at their home, a flat in Menucourt, a town ‘beyond the western edge of Paris’.

They had recently returned from the Palm Dog awards which Messi won. The visit to the awards ceremony was tough for Messi as he was on a lead most of the time and he is used to being free. Messi had the chance to meet other Hollywood canine stars. The New York Times reported that, “Navigating the Hollywood scene for the first time, Messi handled the room like a pro”.

At a party one guest asked Contini how she had trained Messi to play dead. As her English is not great, she demonstrated to the person. Ryan Gosling was there and he thought that Messi was sick and came over and asked if there was a problem.

Contini recalled the moment. She said: “But at that moment [when Messi was playing dead] Ryan Gosling came over and said, ‘Is your dog all right, he doesn’t look very well.’ And I replied, ‘Don’t worry; he’s acting.'”

The film also has seven Bafta nominations. The awards ceremony takes place today.

Messi is described as an exceptional dog. More leading roles are the way. Anatomy of a Fall premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on 21 May 2023, where it won the Palme d’Or and the Palm Dog Award.

Anatomy of a Fall poster
Anatomy of a Fall poster. The image is deliberately small to avoid copyright breach.

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Image credit for the poster: By Le Pacte – IMP Awards, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74397267

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