Matteo Garrone returns to the crime-stained streets of southern Italy for his latest social realist parable.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes feature in Matteo Garrone’s ninth feature, which sees the Italian director return to his social realist roots with a low-key crime drama that calls to mind his Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner from 2008, Gomorrah. Man’s best friend is not the primary focus here though – as per the title, the film centres around a gentle dog groomer named Marcello (Marcello Fonte), who runs a small shop in a rough neighbourhood somewhere near Napoli.
Given the authentically gritty setting, where everyone is seemingly on the take, it’s unsurprising to learn that Marcello sells cocaine on the side to help pay for regular scuba diving trips with his young daughter. Soon, however, Marcello’s illicit dealings see him become mixed up with a hotheaded local brute named Simone (Edoardo Pesce), who’s quick to take advantage of Marcello’s passive nature and diminutive stature.
Marcello’s unwavering kindness towards animals (in one scene he returns to the scene of a burglary to rescue a chihuahua, which one of the robbers has left to die in a freezer) makes him an instantly endearing character. Although this could be viewed as a cheap ploy from Garrone, the film benefits greatly from the lighter moments where Marcello is shown washing, walking and generally making a fuss over the various pooches in his care.
Dogman is being pitched as an “urban western”, and Nicolai Brüel’s dirt-smudged cinematography certainly adds a layer of grime and gloom to proceedings. Yet while the film is compelling enough as an unsentimental portrait of social decay in southern Italy, it lacks the muscularity and visceral jolt of Garrone’s earlier work. Marcello’s sympathetic putz schtick wears thin after a while (although Fonte works wonders with the material), and there’s a sense of shrugging inevitability about the symbolic act of retribution that closes out the film.
Garrone certainly knows how to construct taut allegorical thrillers on this scale, but following the director’s ambitious, darkly comic Reality and Tale of Tales, which debuted at Cannes in 2012 and 2015 respectively, we were hoping for something with a bit more bite.
Published 17 May 2018
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