CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Pet groomer roughed up in brilliant Dogman

Based on a true story, release from Camden-based Artificial Eye group is a thoughtful, gentle but horribly violent movie

18 October, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Marcello Fonte with four-legged friends in Dogman

DOGMAN
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Certificate 15
☆☆☆☆

TAKING its cue from a true story, Dogman is an absolutely enthralling, occasionally terrifying, and always engaging film set in the urban wastes of a poverty-stricken town in southern Italy.

Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is everybody’s friend. He manages a rundown dog-grooming parlour on a grim parade, a seaside piece of Modernism that might have once seen better days, but if so, it’s a very distant memory for those who loiter about its precincts. A scrubby playground with worn-out swings, dust-blown bars and squalid high-rise flats is Marcello’s landscape where he cares for his neighbours’ dogs, and enters his own toy poodle in grooming shows.

He finds happiness through his love of his canine friends and passing the time of day with other shopkeepers, the men he shares lunch with, and his daughter Alida (Alida Baldari Calabria). He is estranged from her mother and takes Alida scuba diving, a pastime that helps them escape their surroundings and enter a dream-like world.

Local hardnut Simone (Edoardo Pesce) sees his kindness as a weakness and exploits Marcello for all he is worth. Marcello’s dirty little secret is he is a low-level cocaine dealer, coerced by this thug, and sells bags of the drug to a select group. Simone, a brute of a bully, regularly comes by and takes liberties with this quiet, small man, while rampaging through the neighbourhood, committing crimes and acts of violence with no apparent comeback.

One day, he breaks the nose of a bar owner and we are party to a discussion whether now is the time to pay for someone to come in and make Simone disappear.

Things escalate further when he uses Marcello’s place to commit a robbery, prompting the plot to go up a notch…

Dogman is a rare thing: a thoughtful, gentle but horribly violent movie. The actors are across the board excellent. Pesce’s Simone is a deeply unpleasant character, and so believable, while Fonte is extraordinary in his body language. The opening scene, where he attempts to shampoo a dog you’d cross the street to avoid, becomes a clever metaphor for what transpires later.

The locations are fantastic – the feel of this town creates an understanding of the behaviour of those who live there.

The heavy shadow of Mafia-type codes – not helping the police, taking the law into your own hands – is another vital, cultural plot driver.

Garrone has made another classic to go alongside Gomorrah, his seedy look at Neapolitan mob life. Stunning storytelling, this is a brilliant release from the Camden-based Artificial Eye group, and is surely in the running for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.

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