“There’s a feeling of deprivation, of struggles, of living by your day-to-day actions.”
With Dogman, tenacious Italian filmmaker, Matteo Garrone, has crafted a gritty, accessible social landscape. A perfect fit for the film’s ambiance, which is both charismatic and melancholic. The sun shines on the somewhat grim, rundown coastal town. So ambiguous is the sparse setting, there appears to be a sense of evolving character in the dark.
The distinct, friendly voice of Marcello (Marcello Fonte), and the acoustics of the dog grooming place, as we open. There’s a feeling of deprivation, of struggles, of living by your day-to-day actions. Marcello doesn’t grumble about his humble lifestyle. On the contrary, he looks to the next person in his life to offer a kind of good-humored rapport. Most regularly, with a young daughter who sporadically visits, and a group of old buddies he can socialise and eat with.
Marcello’s own physique, a small man in height, and employment, may on any other day be a reason to turn your nose up at – even throw stones. But the man is a kind soul by nature it seems. There is no intent to hurt or even disrupt the mood of those around him. A childlike enthusiasm, and infectious way about him. With his work-place dogs, including his own pet at home, his jovial manner would suggest he has no worries in the world at all.
“Marcello is both a little bit naive, and a little bit socially confined.”
The knock on the door, with an urgency, is as affecting as alarm bells. As is the motorcycle sound that usually means Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce) is close by. Simoncino is, judging by the switch of expression on Marcello’s face, a troublesome figure. A brutish man, like a boxer from the old movies, clad in tracksuit and fresh scars. His character resembles the kind of huge, oafish dog you need to keep on a leash at all times. But Marcello’s friendship with this thug is as a supplier of cocaine – on the side of course.
Marcello’s relationship with Simoncino, has a whiff of the kid who gets embroiled with local gangsters – from menial errands to life-altering circumstances. You get into the wrong circles, you become useful, it becomes the normal way of living. Perhaps you don’t know any better, and it is just easier to continue this clandestine existence, partially ignorant to the fear and the whereabouts. Marcello is both a little bit naive, and a little bit socially confined.
Such comradery is admirable, but the bad juice is likely to get spilled sooner or later. Or even blood I should say. Simoncino is an illogical, spontaneous maniac. Adrenaline all the way up to eleven. There is no hesitation in headbutting, and smashing a games machine if he doesn’t win his money back right away.
In one sequence in Dogman, when forced to be the driver Simoncino and another casual crook need for a house break-in. As they leave the scene, Marcello is distraught to hear that they put the dog on site into the freezer to shut it up – chuckling at their idiocy.
He later goes back, breaks in himself, to retrieve the dog, and thawing him out. It sounds somewhat comical on the page, but the scene is deeply moving. Marcello has little regard for getting caught, his sole aim is to tend the dog to health.
“the change in Marcello is a significant sign of personal growth and strength.”
Marcello, as loyal and dedicated as he is in all things, he is something of a pushover too. Not just in his extra curricular illegal activities, but down to the more trivial matters of choosing where to go diving with his daughter, where it seems he has little say. Their relationship is rife with a deep-seeded humanity. Seemingly the most liberated Marcello is within the film’s narrative.
With Simoncino, Marcello has to tag along at a nightclub moments after watching him beat two men half to death. When someone shoots Simoncino, Marcello nearly literally loses his head. The thug survives, but is more concerned about the cocaine thrown on the floor – which Marcello scrapes up off the floor.
Simone’s troublesome ways continue to spill across the neighbourhood. The locals at the end of their wits, discretely suggest enough is enough, and that they take it into their own hands. It might all be just talk, a release, but their patience, and simple yearning for a trouble-free life, continues to grow thin.
But the strains and dangers of such a threatening relations takes its toll. When Simoncino puts Marcello is a position that could not only ruin him, but lose all respect of the community. Marcello’s carefree nature takes a blow, a ponderous, deeply concerned expression occupies him. As things escalate, the change in Marcello is a significant sign of personal growth and strength. He won’t be pushed around any more.
“Matteo Garrone has long since proved himself one of modern cinema’s gritty visionaries.”
As an audience, you might question the infuriating loyalty Marcello demonstrates for such a criminal figure. But there’s that tight grasp of the precious life for his daughter, as well as the fear for his own life.
Marcello Fonte is breathtaking, a man whose reserve and compassion towers above anyone else’s. It’s a truly enthralling, immersive turn for the actor. He was stunned to receive the Best Actor prize at Cannes earlier this year, and then the European Film Awards equivalent not too long ago. Edoardo Pesce, too, is mesmerising, transforming himself into a monster of a man without much care for the damage he might cause others.
Matteo Garrone has long since proved himself one of modern cinema’s gritty visionaries. With Dogman, he has merged the skill of utilising vibrant visuals with a layered dimness – through the movie’s architecture, tone, and characterisation.
Even as the bad times roll by (especially in a crucial sequence that won’t be spoiled here), Marcello is still keen to please. His unquenchable quest for the serene and a kind of solace, makes him the better man. We might have knew this all along. But the dents caused from the chaos, might be just too deep to repair. The lingering final moments of contemplation, of a kind of peace and trauma, is beautiful in every second of its pain and posture.