Tuesday 9 October 2018

Dogman (Italy/France 2018: Dir Matteo Garrone)

Marcello is a divorced father of one, struggling to make ends meet running a dog grooming parlour called 'Dogman' (to which the film's title refers, as well as Marcello's state of being during the movie) and doing a bit of cocaine selling as well. Always keen to please and not rock the boat, he's trying his best, using the little money he earns funding scuba diving trips to bond with his daughter Sofia.

But Marcello has a big problem. The town bully - the ferocious, feral Simoncino, feared by everyone, holds Marcello in his thrall, persuading him with menaces to obtain drugs and also to help as a getaway driver. But when Simoncino involves Marcello in a burglary close to home, resulting in the latter undertaking a prison sentence to cover for Simoncino's crime, the dog parlour owner makes it personal and seeks revenge.

Garrone's movie, his first feature since the sprawling and ambitious Tale of Tales back in 2015, doesn't put a foot wrong, a dark and heady mix of humour and pathos played out in a grim coastal resort town which doesn't seem like it ever had better days to look back on. Essentially a two man revenge tragedy, Dogman pits Marcello against Simoncino, and it's their ambiguous, strangely symbiotic relationship that is the core of the film - they even live across the road from each other.

Marcello Fonte is terrific as the downtrodden Marcello; his permanent goofy smile masks the pain of his life, only leavened by the time he spends with Sofia (Alida Baldari Calabria - excellent). His work at the dog grooming parlour is both funny and at times rather dangerous for the actor (watch the film's opening and tell me it isn't so) and the sequence where he goes back to the scene of a break in to rescue a dog that's been put in a freezer is a tender gem. Simoncino is played as a psychotic force of nature by Edoardo Pesce, a performance of raw, simmering violence which almost transcends the part to be emblematic of something more primal, it's that good.

Garrone's balance between dark humour and sustained threat is a tough one to achieve, but he manages it skillfully. Marcello could be seen as a figure of fun, and certainly his physique and his choice of employment suggest a figure of ridicule, but his earnest nature and commitment to broadly doing the right thing invests him with a dignity that makes the scene of his incarceration (brief but with exchanged glances between prisoners that tells you he's about to have a very bad time) even more unbearable.

Dogman is largely music free, using the ambient sounds of the coast - and a lot of silence - to tell the story. In fact, apart from the bursts of violence which punctuate the film, it is the sound of Simoncino's approaching motorbike which provides the movie's tension. The roar of the engine, announcing the thug's arrival, is as potent and ominous as the sound of the bolt pistol used by Javier Bardem in the Coen Brothers' 2007 movie No Country for Old Men.

It would have been easy for Garrone to have developed the movie to give the audience the satisfaction of Simoncino's comeuppance, but Dogman's denouement is much more complex than that. The sense of characters trapped in their own world, which punctuates the whole film, denies the movie an easy resolution, but overall it's a mesmerising piece; a tragi-comic triumph.

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