By Mitchell Bozzetto (Sydney, Australia)
Matteo Garrone, director of modern mobster flick Gomorra returns to Italy’s criminal underworld for his latest film Dogman. However, this time round it’s less about the mob and more about a petty coke dealer and a brutal hardened criminal. Set in a run-down stretch along the Italian shore (definitely not tourism territory), the film follows the story of Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a kind but cowardly dog groomer. Marcello spends his days at his shop grooming all types of dogs from Great Danes to Poodles, he spends quality time with his daughter from a failed marriage and everyone in the town adores him.
It’s safe to say Marcello is a kind-hearted, loveable human being… or so we’re meant to believe. Whilst dog grooming may be his real job, Marcello is also a coke dealer on the side. However; he’s probably one of the worst dealers I’ve ever seen as we only ever see him sell to one customer who is on his soccer team. Apart from that he’s only other customer is brutal ex-boxer and hardened criminal Simone (Edoardo Pesce), but he just bullies Marcello into giving him coke rather than paying for it. And this is where our story really kicks off. Simone is known and hated by everyone in town and conversations are had to ‘silence’ him but no one has the balls to do so. Instead, they practically turn a blind eye on his rampage through the town, so much so that the owner of the local pub ends up giving Simone 300 euro just to leave his pub after he completely destroys one of his poker machines in anger. But it’s Marcello who is the worst offender, as he just can’t seem to betray his bully.
On numerous occasions Marcello has the opportunity to let Simone die or give him up to the police but it seems Marcello is stuck in a state of Stockholm syndrome. Eventually, Marcello goes as far as serving jail time for Simone, he takes the rap for a crime that turns the whole town against him, the same town that once adored him. Once out of prison Marcello seeks out Simone for his share of the crime that put him in jail but of course Simone has nothing to offer him. This in turn sends Marcello to his wits end, causing him to take matters into his own hands. Matteo Garrone does a stellar job of creating a seedy, lower-class environment with the characters to match.
Marcello is a captivating character played to perfection by Fonte, you want to feel sorry for this ‘sweet’ man but at the same time you can’t stand his pathetic presence. Fonte’s performance is harrowing to say the least, it’s an outstanding portrayal of someone who is trapped but at the same time only has themselves to blame. Pesce also does a tremendous job as a terrifying coke head maniac. His presence in every scene is chilling whilst his viciousness is so believable you can understand why every man and his dog are afraid of him. Garrone and cinematographer Nicolai Brüel do a stellar job of visually showing the character shift of Marcello through colour palette and weather changes. Pre prison we are presented with warm sunny days whilst post prison it changes to damp rainy days.
This adds to the self-destruction of Marcello’s character as he slowly drifts into insignificance. Whilst the visuals and performances are at the top of their game, it’s the story that didn’t have me captivated. It’s quite a predictable one, from the very first interaction between Marcello and Simone you know exactly where it’s heading. And whilst these characters draw similarities to different dog like charisma’s and the story focuses on the metaphor of the loyalty that dogs provide, I still find their motivations and actions too puzzling, I can’t help but wonder what the point of all this is? Dogman is a sturdy piece of cinema and a good addition to Garrone’s filmography however; a little more ambition could have turned this into something more than it was.