THE STORY – A gentle dog groomer becomes involved with a violent boxer who terrorizes the neighborhood.
THE CAST – Marcello Fonte & Edoardo Pesce
THE TEAM – Matteo Garrone (Director/Writer), Ugo Chiti, Maurizio Raucci & Massimo Gaudioso (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes
By Beatrice Loayza
“Dogman,” the Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film, marks a return to form for director Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah”), shifting concerns back to the bleak social realism that characterized his sensational Golden Globe-nominated film. Gritty naturalism spotlighting urgent social problems is hardly unique in the European festival circuit as of late, but what Garrone’s 2018 film lacks in originality, it makes up for with a gripping, white-knuckled narrative and a satisfying tonal shift from a more conventional crime drama to flat-out revenge horror. Still, “Dogman” meddles in allegory that will perhaps prove painfully simplistic or undeveloped to audiences tuned into the state of Italian politics. Interpretations aside, “Dogman” is a compelling character study helmed by a Cannes award-winning performance by Marcello Fonte that will induce palpable reactions on all points of the emotional spectrum.
Marcello (Fonte) is a professional dogman, for lack of better words, providing grooming and kennel services for local dogs, as well as dabbling in competition grooming himself. Naturally, he has a way with man’s best friend. That he capitalizes on this innate ability and indeed has a passion for the animals he’s working with, dulls the pity that might otherwise exist with these sorts of working-class dramas. Add to this a loving relationship with his daughter from a past marriage, and camaraderie with and respect from the other men in his community, and Marcello lives a decent if modest life.
But inexplicably Marcello keeps the company of the neighborhood brute Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a violent, hulking figure who often hassles the diminutive Marcello for cocaine, and has no reservations about stealing what he wants and beating up those who get in his way. Too spineless to protest (or unwilling to face the violent consequences of doing so), Marcello is often implicated in Simone’s criminal activities and is all-too-willing to see the silver lining of his involvement by funneling the extra money he receives from these exploits towards scuba-diving classes with his daughter. That is until one of Simone’s plots goes predictably awry, and Marcello’s life is fundamentally changed for the worse.
Somehow both its weakness and strength, Marcello’s insistent compassion for Simone at times pushes credulity, leaving his motivations or justifications either obtuse or disappointingly simple. The latter explanation falls in line with an obvious metaphor, that Marcello is merely like a dog– obedient, loyal to a fault– and Simone a one-man symbol for fascism. The setting also heightens this sense of the dystopian– a barren strip mall housing a community seemingly drained of blood, all underscored by a steel gray and oxygen-deprived blue hue color palette. Considering the parallels between Simone and the vicious dog Marcello tends to in the film’s jarring opening shot, however, I am compelled to interpret the film less as a political allegory and more as a man’s loss of naivete, and the deterioration of a remarkable(ly flawed) empathy.
Fonte, in particular, does wonders with his role as Marcello, who is deeply sympathetic yet frustrating and foolish, and whose fragile bone structure and bush baby eyes capture the delicate masculinity in question here. It’s frustrating to the core to see Marcello crawl back to Simone after so much deceit, which comprises a heavy portion of the film’s pathos, and these baffling actions do eventually begin to instill doubt in the logical integrity of the script. Yet, so much of what makes “Dogman” so absorbing is the sense of dread that each interaction between Simone and Marcello evokes, knowing full well the type of men each are, and allowing the painfully uneasy, at times horrifying results take shape to thrilling effect.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A gripping, white-knuckled narrative and a satisfying tonal shift from a more conventional crime drama to flat-out revenge horror. Impressive performance by lead actor Marcello Fonte.
THE BAD – Unoriginal and perhaps simplistic with its social allegory.