An easy way to raise a film’s stakes is to put an infant or pet in harm’s way. What impresses most in Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is that it manages to take the crown of 2018’s most stressful film while posing the bare minimum of danger to its canine stars. Instead, all the film’s threat is directed at their diminutive groomer/dogsitter, Marcello (Marcello Fonte), as he takes the brunt of his coastal town’s lawlessness.
Marcello is caught up in a cocaine racket and an abusive friendship with unpredictable bruiser Simone (Edoardo Pesce). Simone’s addicted to the coke Marcello deals, and he’s irrational and violent, constantly putting Marcello in physical and financial danger. Yet Marcello always sticks up for him, even when the police come knocking. It’s a deeply sad dynamic, one that films rarely feature, and you get a physically unpleasant rush of anxiety whenever you hear Simone’s motorbike pulling up outside Marcello’s doggy day care.
Fonte was a deserving recipient of the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes, putting in a bleak, terrorised performance, always offering contrition. He’s a pitiable figure, but also has a magical way with dogs – one particular scene that sees Marcello taming a snarling pitbull makes him especially easy to feel for. His humiliations are upsetting, and any time he sticks up for himself is thrillingly cathartic.
Garrone conjures plenty of heart-in-mouth set pieces, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. A heroically daring rescue of a chihuahua from a couple of thugs is riveting, high-wire stuff, and the explosive finale pushes the breath out of you for minutes on end.
Back in more familiar low-life gangster territory after the interesting but flawed English-language fantasy Tale of Tales, Garrone flexes his crime-film muscles with a savage, masterly look at just how far one man can be pushed.
CAST: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Alida Baldari Calabria
DIRECTOR: Matteo Garrone
WRITERS: Matteo Garrone, Ugo Chiti, Massimo Gaudioso
SYNOPSIS: Marcello, a small and gentle dog groomer, finds himself involved in a dangerous relationship of subjugation with Simone, a former boxer who terrorises the entire neighbourhood. In an effort to reaffirm his dignity, Marcello will submit to an unexpected act of vengeance.