Dogman Marcello Fonte

Year: 2019
Director(s): Matteo Garrone
Writer(s): Matteo Garrone
Region of Origin: Italy
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 103 mins

Synopsis: A timid dog groomer living in a poor suburb is tested when a petty criminal pushes him too far. (Source)

Survival means different things to different people. Though most stories paint this idea through the definitive lens of life and death, Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is much more complex. His latest film crime drama eschews glamorized violence for unsentimental, day-to-day struggle. Here, Garrone’s anti-hero is a nobody, someone content to hide in the shadows of his small town as his kindness and complacency are pushed to the limit. Based on a shocking true story, Garrone emerges with a film that’s utterly jolting. We’re submerged into desperation as characters transcend beyond polite cinematic archetypes. The result is a thriller that boasts an impeccable central performance, cute dogs and an ending that rattles us to the bone.  

In a quaint, seaside Italian town, the meek, soft-spoken Marcello (Marcello Fonte) keeps to himself. There, he runs a modest dog grooming business and is liked well enough by his neighbors. When not on the job, he spends time with his daughter Alida (Alida Baldari Calabria). He also happens to sell cocaine on the side and is easily hustled into petty crimes from the town’s drug addled bully, Simone (Edoardo Pesce). It doesn’t take long before these opposing sides of Marcello’s worlds collide. After one of Simone’s actions sends heat towards Marcello, the introverted dog groomer is left to deal with some immense fallout, fighting to save his simple but fulfilling way of life.

Garrone’s focus on Marcello’s shifting state of mind is an anchor that breaks through sparse restraint. This is a true character piece through and through, rather than a didactic work intent on judging Marcello’s questionable actions. Garrone allows Marcello to truly guide the film, taking things from an unassuming start, all the way to an utterly devastating conclusion. Tethered to such an unpredictable character, the story dissects small-town survival and dog-eat-dog mentality. There are also some pretty profound observations about human frailty, inevitable self-destruction and how we can be capable of both genuine warmth and hidden rage. With human contradictions forming the bigger picture, Garrone’s latest is a provocation that explores how we feed the primal impulses that rage within us.

Dogman Marcello Fonte Edoardo Pesce

Thriving within the film’s character-based perspective, Marcello Fonte is the key to its depth. To Fonte’s credit, Marcello embodies the idea that no one is who they are on surface. He subtly peels back layers with each reveal, and even then, continues to surprise. Whereas most characters of this type feel like a slave to obvious narrative templates, Fonte allows Marcello to feel spontaneous. There’s a gentle nature to him that makes him endearing, but a genuine pain and darkness that’s hard to ignore. Opposite, Edoardo Pesce feels just as textured and rich, providing a counterpoint who always keeps us anxious.

Dogman is an affecting take on existence lived in the fringe. Garrone gives the genre a story that seamlessly blends grace, hardship and grit. It’s not an easy film to watch at times, but it’s never less than gripping. Keeping things grounded and not without a sense of whimsy, Garrone’s film is as alluring as it is haunting, twisting that should be familiar into something just off center, but always damningly relatable.