DIR: Matteo Garrone • WRI: Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso • DOP: Nicolai Brüel • ED: Marco Spoletini • DES: Dimitri Capuani • PRO: Paolo Del Brocco, Matteo Garrone, Jean Labadie, Alessio Lazzareschi, Jeremy Thomas • MUS: Michele Braga • CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak
A decade after his breakthrough mafia movie, Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone has once again created an intense illustration of moral corruption by violence and greed. Garrone’s Palme d’Or nominated Dogman is a mysterious character study of one seemingly average man’s catastrophic spiral into crime.
Our hero, although it is a struggle to identify him as such, is Marcello. He is a well-liked dog groomer in a town that appears to be crumbling around him. Marcello, whimsically portrayed by Marcello Fonte, is a small and sweet-natured, man who prides himself on his good reputation and work ethic. He is a man with little joy other than the love of his daughter and the dogs that he cares for. The claustrophobic and colourless atmosphere is seldom broken during the film. Yet even during the brief moments of relief from the film’s heavy mood − a dog-grooming competition, a diving holiday with his daughter − a sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction seeps in.
Fonte, who took home the award for best actor at Cannes for his performance, is the ideal caricature of a meek and mild-mannered man. His slim frame and exaggerated features lend themselves to a naturally comic air. In the opening scene, he gingerly washes a ferociously aggressive dog with a rag on a long pole. It is a charmingly funny introduction to Marcello’s endlessly patient and warm character that also foreshadows his delicate and submissive relationship with the antagonist, Simone. This style of almost vaudevillian slapstick humour induces a good giggle, which playfully clashes with the grim setting of the story and the violence that the film descends into.
Marcello lives in a decaying seaside town on the outskirts of Rome. The landscape is so desolate and bleak that it verges on post-apocalyptic. Furthermore, the neighbourhood is tormented by the aforementioned Simone, a tyrannical brute played by Edoardo Pesce. The din of his motorcycle engine, like the ominous roar of a monster from a child’s nightmare, warns that evil is closing in on Marcello. And Simone truly is nothing short of a nightmare. The thug is a former boxer and cokehead that we learn early on gets much of his supply from Marcello. He is a wild feral creature with no morality or sense of honour to speak of, yet the two men share an inexplicable bond.
Marcello’s weak personality is unable to fight against Simone’s alpha dominance. He is completely submissive, allowing Simone away without paying for his drugs and is bullied by him into dangerous, illegal situations without reward. His feeble attempts to stand up to Simone result in further bullying and intimidation. Marcello treats Simone like one of the difficult, mean dogs he has to groom. He can tame any dog with treats − cocaine in Simone’s case − and patience, yet Simone is seemingly untameable. Some dogs are just bad and some people are just no good. Marcello, however, is neither good nor bad. He is a decent man who doesn’t stand in the way of bad things happening. He is a passive passenger on his own journey to ruin.
Dogman is a wonderfully performed and beautifully composed piece of work. Marcello is the underdog who waits too long to find his bite or his bark. His motivation at times is frustratingly unclear and his loss of morality and sense of greed is unjustified and unsatisfactory. Then, when he finally does try to assert some dominance over the Alpha, he remains a cowardly chihuahua of a man.