Matteo Garrone’s tough, menacing allegory of a bleak society and a simple man who tries to resist is an intense and satisfying work.
Dir. Matteo Garrone
2018 | Italy | Crime/Drama | 103 mins | 2.39:1 | Italian
NC16 (passed clean) for drug use and some violence
Cast: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Nunzia Schiano
Plot: A timid dog groomer living in a poor suburb sells cocaine on the side and stays out of trouble, while trying to deal with his unstable, violent acquaintance who is a menace to the whole neighborhood.
Awards: Won Best Actor (Cannes); Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (BAFTAs)
International Sales: Rai Com
Subject Matter: Slightly Dark/Heavy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Italian Film Festival 2019)
Just the first shot in, and you might fear for your neck. We see a huge, snarling white dog in an unnerving close-up (leashed of course, but still…), barking and growling away as a man tries to wash and clean it. That man is the eponymous victim-hero who would come to define Matteo Garrone’s latest tough-as-nails film.
Returning to the gritty filmmaking style that characterised his international breakthrough Gomorrah (2008), Dogman is a menacing work depicting a bleak society and selfish characters, yet within this small Italian town with rundown buildings and puddles of muddy water that don’t seem to evaporate, there resides a simple man who owns a shop serving all manner of dogs.
Perhaps that descriptor ‘all manner of…” could also apply to humans because in this town there are some who are the scum of Earth, “like dogs…” as we derogatorily call them. In one blink-and-you-miss shot, however, we do see a dog tearing up after witnessing an inexplicable scene between two animals (men) struggling for survival.
Roberto Benigni was offered the role of Marcello but turned it down.
In this context, Garrone’s use of the title, ‘Dogman’, seems particularly apt. It is not just the name of Marcello’s (the lead character as played by Cannes Best Actor winner Marcello Fonte) shop, but suggests that dogs and men are of the same mould, and so dependent on each other that women (at least in this film) seem like all-knowing saints.
Fonte, a non-professional actor, delivers a brilliant performance, capturing his character’s quirks—that shifty posture, that scrawny bent back, that slight timidity. The narrative charts Marcello and his friendship with an acquaintance that the entire town absolutely hates, a Hulk-like drug addict who is easily triggered and has no qualms inflicting violence on anyone, or for that matter, anything. He is the Ultimate Scum, and Garrone depicts this complicated relationship with requisite drama and tension.
In some parts of the film, Marcello pants like a dog, but like a dog who can’t take it anymore, that bite to the neck may come at the most inopportune moment. The film is violent when it needs to, but it may also prove to be bitingly hilarious even at its most disturbing moments.
Dogman continues Garrone’s rise as one of Italy’s younger premier international directors working today, alongside Paolo Sorrentino, Luca Guadagnino, and a few others.