Matteo Garone delivers a showpiece of raw gangsterism in the Italian suburbs, and the moral complexities of vengeance in a small town community, with DOGMAN.
The film follows Marcello, portrayed by Marcello Fonte, a content dog groomer who lives a precarious co-existence of being chummy with his fellow neighbours and dealing cocaine on the side to shady tough guys. There are obvious connotations of who Marcello is from the offset, continually panning to a shaking, angry chihuahua. Not the most subtle reference. There is also Marcello’s daughter Sofia, (Alida Calabria) who is the light of his life and reason for his existence, alongside his dogs and friendships. His dodgy dealings help to fund lavish diving trips for his daughter, despite the threat and troubles they bring to the neighbourhood. His chief nemesis/companion is the troubled, violent Simone (Eduardo Pesce), who takes pleasure in terrorising everyone and committing petty theft, bringing Marcello into all of his schemings. He primarily represents the damaged ex-boyfriend who you should leave, but Marcello keeps coming back, loyal as one of his four-legged clients.
The film does not quite reach its full potential but is an engaging tale of power struggles, and the irrationality of fear. Marcello’s incessant desire to be liked by everyone demonstrates the actor’s ability to display despair, plain idiocy and distressed disposition all at once. He slowly adopts the hideous mannerisms of Simone, and yet despite having multiple opportunities to get out of the situation, he refuses. The money is a clear motivation to have quality time with his daughter who seems to care genuinely for him despite being evidently aware of his flaws, but it’s also an opportunity to be the hero or villain for Marcello. Easily anonymous in a crumbling estate, any chance of escapism or power is grasped. He risks everything for this, which is a grounding foundation of the film alongside his dopey sense of humour. Despite the evident darkness seeping into his actions, there is always an underlying sense of good intentions, whatever the cost. During a scene in which Simone and his crony rob a house, they shove a dog into the freezer to prevent it from causing a scene. Ignorant, or blasé about the threat of being caught, Marcello races back to the house afterwards, scales the drainpipe and rescues the canine. It’s an act of sheer altruism for the sake of the dog: one may argue he shows more genuine devotion to his dogs than his daughter.
“He is caught up in someone else’s nightmare”
During the Q&A press panel at Cannes, Garrone commented on Marcello’s nature, stating “He is caught up in someone else’s nightmare” in reference to his protection and loyalty to Simone despite the rest of the neighbourhood who would happily hang him out to dry. “He remains a victim of this availing machinery”, he adds; “we didn’t want to turn him into a monster”. While this may be so, we all must be responsible for our own actions, be it moral or not. The blackness of Simone’s troubles taints Marcello’s shiny polished image, but ultimately he goes back time and time again. The setting is reflective of this, on the bleak coast of Italy with little economic prospect or vibrancy; everyone scraps like a pack of mongrels merely to survive. The washed out shots of puddles forming around the rusting climbing frames, and the peeling paint of the one cafe in town reflects the emotions of everyone living there. Fascism begins to tear apart not just the collective but the individuals, chipping away at them like the paint. It is less of a tale of vendetta, but more one of personal justice. The film was shot chronologically, which helps Marcello to naturally develop himself in line with the character, which displays the declining innocence and fear of the protagonist. The sheer desperation becomes increasingly intense as the wrong alliances are made and the structure of their small existence begins to crumble.
Ultimately, there is a gritty authenticity about the film which centers it and keeps it engaging. From the back-lit alleys of the cocaine suppliers and bloody bash-ups, to the serene composition of the waves as they scuba dive into the deep – the film delivers a juxtaposition of good intentions with dire consequences. Not to overlook either the ample supply of mutts who reflect the nature of the film: snarling, whimpering and vehemently vigilant.