Film, Drama
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Matteo ‘Gomorrah’ Garrone’s intimate parable of a downtrodden dog groomer is a well-crafted gem.

With ‘Gomorrah’, his seedy, hyperkinetic delve into Naples’ criminal underbelly, Matteo Garrone vividly mapped out a whole ecosystem of organised crime, populating it with sharply drawn characters and bursts of vicious violence. In ‘Dogman’, his latest odyssey through Italy’s hardscrabble fringes, the crime is of a more disorganised, spontaneous variety, but the gritty world-building is just as impressive – and this time the focus is tighter and more claustrophobic. Loosely based on a real incident, it’s an intimate tale of an essentially good man paying a heavy price for his weaknesses. It suggests that man and mutt aren’t really all that different when backed into a corner. The overall feel is of the kind of Aesop’s fable Scorsese would tell his kids.

Marcello Fonte is Marcello, the doleful, divorced owner of a dog-grooming shop on a poor Lazio estate that clings apologetically to the seaside. He does his job diligently, sensitively tending to the canines in his care, and he tries to be a good dad to his young daughter. The pair go scuba-diving off the coast together, and he daydreams of one day taking her to the Red Sea. But he’s in thrall to local bully Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a petty crim who throws his substantial bulk around this tight-knit community at every opportunity, and seems unable to shake off his attentions. For reasons that remain hazy, Marcello supplies Simone with cocaine, a rash move that soon leaves him as an accessory to a violent crime.

This alpha-beta dynamic brings the film’s title into focus: Marcello is basically a poodle for this bruising, casually brutal mastiff of a man. Newcomer Fonte is terrific in the lead role, communicating Marcello’s meek protests with a twitchy physicality that grows slowly into a sketchy defiance. You can almost visualise Steve Buscemi in a US remake set in the boondocks of New Jersey.

The film’s scrubby, beat-up locale is its secret weapon. The rusting shopfronts, concrete estates and scrubland of this distant suburb of Rome crackle with the unmistakeable static of a Wild West town gearing up for a showdown. Cinematographer Nicolai Brüel lends this urban wilderness a sweeping, widescreen feel that leaves the diminutive Marcello looking dwarfed and alone. But slowly, as he finds something approaching grim resolve, Garrone reminds us of that old Mark Twain adage: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.


Release details

102 mins

Cast and crew

Matteo Garrone
Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso
Marcello Fonte
Alida Baldari Calabria
Edoardo Pesce
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