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Film Review: Dogman

24 October 18 words: Natalie Mills

Criminal underworld meets underdog in Garrone’s brutal portrayal of male friendship gone ruff...

Director: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Nunzia Schiano

Running time: 103 mins

Dogman is an underdog story that bites and will not let go. It follows Marcello (Fonte), an excessively passive dog groomer, in his bizarre power struggle/friendship with the monstrous ex-boxer Simone (Pesce). Marcello loves dogs, and his knack for soothing wild beasts is an on-the-nose metaphor. The film opens with him shampooing a snarling pit bull from afar, cooing “cutie-pie” until he’s a good boy.

Set in the bleakest, greyest seaside town in Italy, DOGMAN is the name of Marcello’s dog grooming shop. We experience his gentle life – seemingly worlds away from any trouble – and the friendships he holds dear with his peers and his daughter. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, he is also under the spell of local thug Simone, a.k.a. “A pain in the arse to everyone.” There is a striking contrast between the two men, and every interaction crackles with physicality. Simone has zero respect for him, constantly ignoring his boundaries, yet Marcello allows himself to be dominated. Is it the ego-boost of being useful to a criminal, or having the scariest alpha in the room on your leash? It’s a more toxic, symbiotic relationship than Venom.

There is no satisfaction at the conclusion of this intense, gritty modern fable, just a gnawing loneliness

Marcello moves from dealing Simone cocaine to assisting in his petty crimes. All while sharing his dinner lovingly with his dog at home, or graciously accepting a prize for his grooming skills. In a touching scene, he rushes back to the scene of a crime to save a Chihuahua trapped in a freezer. On a lighternote, this film is a joy for dog lovers. Marcello is a kicked puppy with a heart of gold, hoping for table scraps from a beast. Their debts to each other increase, as Marcello gives up more and more for his misplaced loyalty.

You become increasingly frustrated with Marcello as the film progresses. Why doesn’t he just let Simone get what’s coming to him, instead of saving his ungrateful ass multiple times? He could easily let nature take its course; various people try to bump Simone off. “He’s a mad dog, someone will kill him,” comments a local. A tender scene, where he’s taken to a strip club as a thank you, reveals some of the primal glamour. As they laugh together, there is something in their alliance that he cannot get from his friends. It’s the same pride he feels when taming the pit bull. However, he has his limits, pleading, "Everyone in this neighbourhood likes me. That matters to me,” before being literally bitch-slapped when he refuses to help rob a neighbour.

After finding neither gratitude nor glory after doing time in jail for Simone, Marcello finally bites back. Dogman’s final section is darker and more brutal than I ever expected (I’ve never watched Garrone’s Gomorrah), verging on nightmarish insanity. “It’s me, Marcello!” bellows the slight, soft-eyed man who’s been to hell and back, desperate for validation and acceptance. There is no satisfaction at the conclusion of this intense, gritty modern fable, just a gnawing loneliness. He’s the dog that never has his day.

Did you know? Italy's official submission for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 91st Academy Awards in 2019.

Dogman is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 25 October

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