Dogman (2018), directed by Matteo Garrone, is an Italian crime drama. Marcello Fonte stars as Marcello, the protagonist of the film, and Edoardo Pesce stars as Simone, the antagonist. It’s a story about a small business owner, a dog groomer and a divorced father of a sweet and adorable young girl, who deals cocaine on the side to provide for his daughter. Things turn ugly for him when he is bullied into a life of petty criminality by his menacing client and friend Simone.
It’s a story of violence and crime as seen through the eyes of a meek dog groomer set against a wider context within the pathology of Italy’s divide between North and South, the disparity in socio-economic conditions, and the widening gaps of income inequality. The story takes place in a run down, dilapidated coastal suburb of Naples which forms the backdrop to the story and where crime is endemic. Marcello deals cocaine. His neighbor Franco fences stolen goods. Francesco keeps slot machines in his cafe bar. Simone hustles, swindles and beats people up.
The crime drama is superbly acted and Fonte’s portrayal of Marcello is intensive and riveting as is Pesce’s performance of Simone, the antagonist. Pesce shines in his performance of the film’s main villain and thug. Garrone creates an intimate and accessible portrait of Marcello, a meek and tragic figure, simmering with repressed anger and hostility, who in the end with nothing to lose takes a stand and fights back. The film is full of twists and turns which fuel the narrative of the story and adds to the dramatic tension. It’s a complex film showing the cruelty and brutality of life in a run down suburb of Naples where daily life is compromised.
Garrone weaves together many visual elements to create a dramatic film juxtaposing the narrative of Marcello’s life, his vocation as a dog groomer, his devotion to his daughter, his relationship with his dog Jack, and his social standing among his male friends who he socializes and hangs out with against the narrative of his abusive relationship with Simone who treats him like a dog by having him do his bidding and calling the shots. The relationship between dog and human on a physical and metaphorical level stitches the narrative into a cohesive structure. The film opens with a menacing dog barking at the camera and climaxes with Simone caged in a cage. We see Marcello lovingly look after the dogs left in his care. He treats his pet dog Jack with tenderness and shares a plate of pasta with him. Marcello even goes back to a crime scene to rescue a Chihuahua that was stuffed in a freezer. Simone treats Marcello like a dog ordering him about and takes advantage of his good nature. Some scenes are hard to watch and include seeing Simone rub Marcello’s bruised and battered face against the motorbike that Marcello totaled. It’s akin to the bad pet owner punishing their pet for an accident by rubbing their pet’s nose in their urine or feces. The film superbly plays on the motif of dog and human relations in all its various manifestations.
Dogman is in essence a coming of age film because it is only when Marcello learns to fight brawn with brains can he beat Simone at his own game and regain control of his life. It’s a provocative film whose ending is disturbing and unresolved with no hope in sight. If you are a fan of crime dramas, then, you’re in for a treat. Dogman is a compelling film and worthy of your attention. If you are a fan of Italian cinema, then, you’ll enjoy the film for its unique story line and cinematic story telling. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.