Director: Matteo Garrone
15 | 1h 43min | Crime , Drama , Thriller | 19 October 2018 (UK)
Playing London Film Festival 2018
The fresh air of the street outside feels so good after the LFF screening of Matteo Garrone's (Gomorrah) grimy but gripping DOGMAN. Best in Show this film is is not. Instead, as with Gomorrah, this is another dive into the sub-levels of the Italian underworld and the toxic masculinity it breeds, though we are really swimming with the fringes of the little leagues here. Set in a Italian coastal city suburb that memorably looks like it has been abandoned in anticipation of the whole damn place being bulldozed, the plot concerns Marcello, the titular 'dogman' of the title, and his daily existence jumping between fawning over the variety of pooches brought to his run-down veterinary and dog-pampering service on a crummy street corner, and acting as some kind of simpering and semi-willing accomplice (and coke provider) to local mafia thug Simone.
Some stern cinematography from DP Nicolai Brüel, and atmospheric production design from Dimitri Capuanikeep Dogman a grimly compelling visual feast at all times. But the film is at its best when we are watching the ludicrously imbalanced (at least at first) relationship between Marcello and Simone play out. Star Marcello Fonte certainly wins the 'most oleaginous mob underling' of the year award as the weedy pet groomer, hunched over and rake-thin like some kind of Igor cosplayer. Co-star Edoardo Pesce, as Simone, is like a real-life version of Marvin from Sin City, with a nose extended nearly four feet out from his face thanks to endless bone breakages. Right away it seems Simone has Marcello under this thumb, a thumb that could squash him effortlessly at a moment's notice. The shell-suit rocking Simone frequently turns up at Marcello's store at all hours, to grunt out demands for cocaine, money, or for Marcello to act as his getaway driver for various house break-ins. In one particularly bizarre but strangely touching (and very funny) moment, Marcello turns back from a getaway drive to re-break into the house Simone just broke into, so as to rescue the dog the thug shoved into the fridge to shut it up. Dogs get more love than humans in this world, it seems. One blackly comedic moment in a film laced with more than a few of them
But as much as the film derives its strength from teasing you about how close to death the gollum-like Marcello is skirting via his ongoing partnership-come-serfdom with Simone (think the same long teases the HBO show The Sopranos built up around any number of hapless wannabes who cruised too close to Tony Soprano's inner circle thinking they could handle it), Dogman gets more interesting when we start to see how Marcello might yet find a way to become top dog. Intriguingly, it starts to seem that Marcello's own pathetic outer shell might actually be his best defence, and even a weapon of a sort. Simone headbutts, robs, and cheats everyone around him seemingly because they are a challenge and a threat to his alpha male status. Marcello is the one person he perceives as totally ineffectual, and thus spares him his full wrath. All that is left is for Marcello to learn to exploit that, and the leash might soon be around the other neck. Maybe, the narrative eventually suggests, this put-upon, insecure and weak man, has been waiting for this moment all along. A muscular, grimy and unsettling watch, though admittedly not hugely subtle.