By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated May 22, 2003 12:30 PM

This year’s Cannes Film Festival doesn’t hand out its top prizes until things wind down this weekend, but there is already one winner — and it’s a sure sign that the cinema world is going to the dogs.

On Thursday, Cannes’s coveted canine award — the third annual Palm Dog — was presented to Moses the mutt for his unforgettable cameo in “Dogville,” a heavy-going, three-hour drama starring Nicole Kidman and directed by maverick Danish director Lars von Trier (“Dancer in the Dark”), Reuters reports.

This begged-for (actually, rolled-over-and-begged-for) award is all the more remarkable given that no dog actually appears in the movie, which has abstract sets and props. Moses, it seems, spends almost the entire film represented as a chalk outline.

Still, the five British and American film critics who comprised the Palm Dog jury chose Moses — whose powerful bark was delivered as an off-screen voice — because “his contribution was vital to the film’s impact.”

British journalist Toby Rose, the editor of DQ (Dog Quarterly) magazine and inventor of the award, tells Reuters, “This has cut a swathe through the film community in Cannes. It was very tense for the film industry. But the decision of the judges was unanimous.”

Speaking of barking, Kidman, 35, told a Cannes press conference earlier this week that she and von Trier howled at each other at the start of shooting.

“When I arrived in Sweden, the first week was tricky. He had preconceptions about me and I did about him,” she said. “Then we went off into the forest and had a heart-to-heart. It was a three-hour, warts-and-all, screaming walk. But we came out with a very strong commitment to each other.”

Or, you might say, a dogged devotion.