Edoardo Pesce, Marcello Fonte, Nunzia Schiano, Alida Baldari Calabria
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Humanistic in tone and carried by a strong central performance…
After his 2008 breakthrough Gomorrah – an unapologetic look at the Camorra crime syndicate – Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone switched lanes to experiment with dark fantasy (Tale of Tales) and meta-media comedy (Reality).
Dogman marks his return to the crime genre, albeit on a smaller scale, with an intense character study of an everyman drawn into violence.
Marcello Fonte is Marcello, a harmless dog-groomer in a rundown coastal town off Southern Italy. Although popular amongst the locals and tight-knit community of business-owners, Marcello also deals cocaine on the side, which brings in the extra cash to treat his doting daughter to scuba-diving holidays.
But his fate is tragically intertwined with Simone (Eduardo Pesce), an unpredictable ex-boxer who terrorises the neighbourhood and frequently coaxes Marcello into his criminal activities.
Despite many opportunities to extricate himself from Simone’s (unorganised) crimes, Marcello is fascinated by his counterpart’s alpha-male toxicity and power. This is underscored in the film’s opening scene where Marcello calmly approaches and washes an aggressive canine – demonstrating his inherent nature to appease men and mad dogs alike.
The cinematography from Nicolaj Brüel is impressive throughout, capturing the town’s derelict boardwalk and dilapidated shopfronts in long lingering takes and natural lighting. This is counteracted with up-close, hand-held filmmaking – a strategy employed in the multi-strand narrative of Gomorrah. When Simone first appears, we get an uneasy sense of his towering presence by focusing on the diminutive Marcello – the camera invading his personal space and creating a sense of disorientation.
Though Garrone originally wanted Roberto Benigni to take the lead role, it’s hard to imagine anyone playing it better than Fonte. The relatively-unknown actor imbues his austere namesake with amiable characteristics, and went on to win the best actor award at Cannes for his performance.
The third act is where the film sags, abandoning Marcello’s prioritisation of his daughter for the pursuit of perceived justice. His moral dilemmas culminate in an overstretched epilogue that is curiously enigmatic and open to interpretation.
Humanistic in tone and carried by a strong central performance, Dogman averts its revenge saga trappings to create a social parable reminiscent of the neorealism era; occasionally drawing to mind the work of Italian masters like Fellini and De Sica.