Dogman is a powerful Italian neorealist fable by Matteo Garrone with an award-winning performance by Marcello Fonte.
Kennel Clubbingby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Marcello Fonte won Best Actor at Cannes this year for his portrayal of Marcello in Matteo Garrone’s shaggy dog story Dogman. In a run-down Italian seaside town – it’s out of season, dark and rainy, with puddles in the potholes – Marcello owns a dog-grooming parlour in a dilapidated lock-up. He’s a kind man with a genuine way with vicious dogs. He’s separated from his wife and the highlight of his life is the scuba diving trips he takes with his young daughter – for which he needs more money than his one-man business makes, which makes him vulnerable.
The neigbourhood is terrorised by bullet-headed, violent thug Simone (Edoardo Pesce), built like a barn door. A group of local shopkeepers even go so far as discussing taking out a contract on his life, so desperate are they to rid themselves of him but they chicken out. Marcello, though terrified, seems to feel the best way of protecting himself is ingratiating himself as Simone’s friend.
Simone inveigles Marcello into reluctantly helping to burgle a mansion, where Simone’s so callous that he throws a yapping pet dog into the freezer. Although Marcello says nothing at the time, he returns later to thaw it out and save its life. This is typical of how weak yet kind-hearted he is and how he genuinely loves dogs.
Marcello is forced to go further and further out of his comfort zone and into criminality just to placate the bullying Simone. But the more Marcello accommodates him, the more he demands. Eventually, Simone asks too much, a favour that means Marcello could lose everything and the mild-mannered, lovable little man exacts a terrible revenge.
Like Garrone’s previous Mafia-drama Gomorrah, Dogman is shot in grimy neorealist style. It observes an environment in which fascism flourishes and can dominate. An intolerable situation obtains yet people just moan and put up with it. But Dogman, through the choices Marcello makes, shows the dangers of appeasement and how it will eventually corrupt the appeaser.
On the surface Dogman is a gripping downbeat drama with touches of comedy that distract from the hellish situation it portrays – and with a Roberto Benigni-type role for Fonte as Marcello – yet implicit are the deeper political threats beneath the surface. It packs a powerful punch.
Dogman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, screened at the London Film Festival on 14 and 15 October 2018 and is released on 19 October 2018 in the UK. It is Italy’s entry for the Oscars.