dogman

- Review by Harry Higgins

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Dogman is the latest from Director Matteo Garrone. The film is a return for Garrone to the unglamorous lives of the Italian criminal underworld amid a backdrop of economic (and personal) decay. The story of Dogman unfolds in the most depressing of Italian suburbs. The setting is more Lynchian purgatory than the sun soaked Italy we are used to on screen. Economic development has passed this town by, fairground rides are long out of use, the police are nowhere to be seen. The town, inhabited mostly by men, seems to have only four businesses: A Casino, a restaurant, a cash for gold trader, and a dog grooming salon.

The salon is called Dogman and is the location for most of the action of the story. It is owned by Marcello (played brilliantly by Marcello Fonte) who, in addition to dog grooming, sells cocaine. He takes his daughter (who he adores but sees infrequently as a result of his divorce) on the type of holiday for which a dog groomers salary does not pay. Though Marcello is popular, he is, in canine terms, the runt of the town. He is small and cowardly, and spends most of the film getting pushed around by the town headcase Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce). Simoncino is, in canine terms, the alpha. He is big and angry, traits which, in this town, mean he can do whatever he wants: headbutting a slot machine in the casino, breaking noses at will and forcing Marcello to commit petty crimes.

The main idea that the film tries to articulate is that masculinity, at its most basic, makes dogs out of men. Simoncino does not speak, he growls. Marcello on the other hand, whines. Their physicality when speaking is explicitly canine, as they bob their heads towards each other, before Marcello inevitably cowers. The other men in the town are a pack. At one point in the film, there is a shot of the men huddled together, their faces twisted into snarls, as dogs bark angrily out of frame. There is even a moment where an incredibly muscular dog is sitting next to his incredibly muscular owner. Subtle it ain’t.

In the opening shot of the film, Marcello assuages a pit bull’s anger through sympathy and patience. His efforts to stay on the right side of Simoncino throughout the film play out in much the same way. The film is at its best when it sticks to this relationship. The violence that ensues ranges from absurdly comic, a robbery is committed and a chihuahua is left in the fridge-freezer, to brutally shocking (I winced more than once). The film’s weaknesses are largely to do with Marcello’s daughter, who seems more like a device to ramp up the tension than an actual character. She is in the film so fleetingly you start to wonder why Marcello loves taking her on so many holidays.

Nevertheless, Marcello’s struggle to survive in a world that does not value his tenderness is savage and heart-breaking. “Can you hear me?” Marcello barks out through literal slobbering, like a dog in need of a master. We know that nobody can.