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In Review: Dogman

Director: Matteo Garrone

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With Dogman, Matteo Garrone serves up a bleak and uncompromising film about a small clique of criminals who operate in a seaside neighbourhood near Naples. This, however, is no Amalfi Coast. Setting the film in a dilapidated and decaying resort results in a distinctive chill that pervades each frame; the scenery and architecture are a persistent reminder that there is little glamour in gang life.

At the film’s centre is an outstanding performance from Marcello Fonte (for which he deservedly won the best actor award at Cannes). Garrone – who has previously tread the crime syndicate path with 2008’s Gomorrah  - has used Fonte as a new lens through which to view the familiar themes on show. He plays Marcello, a quiet and unoffending man who has a deep love for dogs. He runs a grooming store - this is clearly where his skills and passions lie - but we soon learn that he makes some extra money on the side by selling cocaine to members of the gang and other locals.  Because of his nature, we almost forgive Marcello for this shortcoming; he uses the money to treat his daughter Sofia (a wonderfully endearing turn from Alida Baldari Calabria) to scuba diving trips.

Marcello’s character arc takes a turn north as he has to navigate the movements of Simoncino (played by Edoardo Pesce) – a dangerous and vile addict who is taking copious amounts of drugs yet not paying for them. His propensity for violence means that Marcello, who also happens to be half Simoncino’s size, can’t do much about it. He is soon in over his head yet he continues to follow Simoncino’s lead and even covers for him after the burglary of a Cash for Gold shop owned by another member of the group. Marcello is given a choice by the police: sign a confession against Simoncino or go to jail for his crimes. Is he as spineless as we are led to believe?

What essentially plays out is a brains vs brawn story – with the scales tilting slightly after a key passage in the film. Interestingly, the director decides to show none of this to the audience. We know it has happened but we are unsure of how it has changed the characters involved. 

Dogman is an excellent low budget film that deserves to be watched and talked about, not least for its central performance. TS