A film far more distinguished in the making than in the tale it tells.


Marcello Fonte


In this Italian set drama, the direction by Matteo Garrone is impeccable and the casting is perfect, so why is my rating not higher? Without a doubt the problem for me lies in the way that its story is told for, despite often being compelling, it lacks the detail that would make following it a satisfactory experience. What Garrone gives us is a film far removed from the fantasy world of his 2015 Tale of Tales and favouring the kind of reality that marked his Mafia-style piece about the Comorra, 2008's Gomorrah. Indeed, the sense of realism is very strong both in what we see of the run-down coastal setting on the fringes of Rome and in the characters we meet who live there.


The central figure is the dogman of the title, Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a man small of stature whose genuine love for the animals has led him to run a parlour where dogs, even savage ones, are groomed. This side of Marcello's nature come out too in his affection for his young daughter (Alida Baldari Calabria). Yet he is also a man who acts as a dealer in cocaine and his customers include an ex-boxer, a violent bully named Simone (Edoardo Pesce). In most films someone like Marcello would be a minor figure - a getaway driver in a heist movie maybe - but here he is the key character and Fonte is superb in the role. But do we really understand him?


Marcello wants to be liked yet, when his acquaintances are worried by Simone's brutality and even ponder the possibility of killing him, Marcello refuses to consider becoming involved although that would have earned their approval. Indeed, although himself intimidated by Simone, Marcello seems to align himself with him. More than that, he actually proves willing to take a rap for him. At this point Marcello's attitude starts to seem perverse even though he expects a payment from Simone for what he has done. When the narrative moves on a year, Marcello who is now free finds that Simone wants nothing to do with him and at last sets out to take his revenge. This climax comes close to Grand Guignol, however.  But the story already seems adrift. Thus we are given no details of Marcello's time in prison although he is unlikely to have gone unmarked by it. In the same way, the fact that his child's mother is scarcely glimpsed leaves us without any details about her and what she had meant in Marcello's life. Overall, this might have emerged as a tale about a good man being corrupted, but that is undermined by the fact that the darker side of Marcello's character is so evident from the start.


If this leaves us pondering the point of the exercise, Dogman in its concluding minutes further confounds us by ceasing to be the personal drama that it has been up to then. It now takes on a symbolical style to suggest that it is a social comment on Italy, but this happens too late in the day to justify the film while also proving inconsistent with its earlier tone. As I have indicated, both on the technical level and as an example of an ensemble cast on top form Dogman delivers much. One should also add that there are two striking scenes featuring dogs. But ultimately all the good work goes into a project co-written by Garrone himself that doesn't succeed in giving us a drama that is emotionally satisfying or truly meaningful.




Cast: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Nunzia Schiano, Adamo Dionisi, Francesco Acquaroli, Alida Baldari Calabria, Gianluca Gobbi, Laura Pizzirani, Giancarlo Porcacchia.


Dir Matteo Garrone, Pro Matteo Garrone, Jean Labadie, Jeremy Thomas and Paolo Del Brocco, Screenplay Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Guadioso and Maurizio Raucci, Ph Nicolaj BrĂ¼el, Art Dir Dimitri Capuani, Ed Marco Spoletini, Music Michele Braga, Costumes Massimo Cantini Parrini.


Archimede/Le Pacte/Rai Cinema/Eurimages-Curzon Artificial Eye.
103 mins. Italy/France. 2018. Rel: 19 October 2018. Cert. 15.