Original Name: Dogman
Director: Matteo Garrone
Debut at: 2018 Cannes/ Main Competition (102 min)
Country: Italy (Italian)
IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6768578/
Whereas I regarded Happy as Lazzaro as a fable about a man who is unaffected by the society and its times, Dogman could be viewed as a fable for a good man who IS affected by the bad deed, albeit with far more straightforward and far more obvious. Employ his neo-realist approach to this small rural Italian town, Dogman’s best strength is that it feels all too real. This gritting drama also couldn’t have worked if it doesn’t boasted by a committed and totally convincing performance from Marcello Fonte, who also plays a character named Marcello (although not a version of himself). He’s a kind dog-groomer who is unassuming. He loves dogs and he is loved by everyone in town. He has a modest job but he loves his job. Everything works out fine for him except one big problem in the form of Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a loose-screw who is always out of control, who is a dumber version of Marv in the Sin City. He brings trouble to everyone and he doesn’t have a slight bit of remorse for his actions. It’s dangerous to stay against his side, but it’s equally dangerous to stay by his side, and our poor Marcello learns that lesson the hard way.
Now, despite its 102 minutes run-time, with a total of 4 screenwriters who contribute to the story, they can’t conceal the fact that it’s a rather simple plot with about 20 minutes too long. It’s the plot developing that also has some issues. First, it’s a portrayal of Simone. Simone is a bully from start to finish. The moments you see him, he’d kick someone to bleeding, he’d sniff coke like crazy or he’d steal, and then kick someone to bleeding. He’s loud to the point that he doesn’t feel like a actual character, which in turns somewhat deflates Marcello’s various decisions. He had it coming. That’s the conclusion most of us will draw after reaching the point where Marcello goes. And it throws both the realism, and the complexity out to the window since Matteo Garrone and his team clearly dictate us what to feel here.
It’s just one side of the argument, however, because to be fair Dogman remains a character study of a good humble man who breaks his own code due to the evil deed of other man. Everything we see and feel are through his point of view (which can explain a bit for Simone’s lack of character’s depth, but no, that is not enough). He’s convincing in every decision he made, which I credit mostly to Marcello’s outstanding performance rather than the nuance of the script, even if the decisions he made are otherwise implausible. It’s a vivid portrayal of the man who is submitted to his abuser (to borrow the concept in Winter Sleep (2013), ‘to become silence so that the one who is at fault is ashamed of himself’), to the point of paying everything he had built up to: his shop, his community, his daughter, his own freedom. There are many chances that he could get rid of Simone, sometimes simply just does nothing, but he’d help the man with all he got. It’s a grim, sad look at the character for sure, so the way he’s triumph in the end is supposed to ask us if we can sympathize to his actions at all.
And to sacrifice for this dark showdown, Dogman unfortunately abandons many warm and humorous moments it successfully established in earlier moments. Many scenes involving him taking care of dogs, for example, are funny and they show you exactly what kind of man Marcello is. The sequence where he allows the dog to eat his pasta, in addition, is just ooze with heart-warming feeling. The same can be said in the scene where he saves the Chihuahua from a fridge. Also, to prepare for the film’s climax, Dogman unfortunately glosses over some contents (regarding him buying the uncut coke) that takes us out a bit from connecting to Marcello. If you want us to totally get under Marcello’s skin, you’d have to show us every step of the way – not skimming it. Overall, Dogman benefits strongly from Matteo’s strong handle to his material (the direction rarely goes wrong here) and Marcello’s commanding performance, it’s unfortunately bugged down by the obviousness of the story. Like its villain Simone, Dogman doesn’t have a subtle bone in its body.