In a year when the Cannes Film Festival has freshened up its main competition by pruning out some of the familiar faces to make room for lesser-known voices, 49-year-old Italian writer-director Matteo Garrone nonetheless returns with Dogman, his fourth consecutive film to be selected to compete for the Palme d’Or.
And for good reason. Closer in tone, themes and milieu to 2008’s Gomorrah than 2012’s Reality and 2015’s Tale of Tales, Dogman is based on a real-life event that made headlines 30 years ago. Twelve years in the writing, it stars Marcello Fonte as Marcello, a wonderfully weaselly dog groomer whose dingy place of work adjoins an equally rundown gold-for-cash joint. The buildings are shit-sandwiched by a desolate beach and crumbling blocks of flats.
Pushover Marcello cuts a lonely, likeable figure who cares deeply for the mangy mutts in his care and worships the young daughter he gets to see occasionally. Unfortunately, Marcello wants to be liked by everyone, including ex-boxer Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a lunk-headed, trunk-torsoed thug who terrorises the neighbourhood and frequently forces Marcello to aid him in petty crimes. Only now the crime that Marcello is being strong-armed into is not so petty…
While the hardscrabble environment, the brutality and the drugs provide a clear link to Gomorrah, there is something of Fellini’s early neorealist movies to Dogman, a film that musters great compassion for its idiosyncratic ‘hero’ and finds beauty in bleak beaches and derelict buildings. A more recent comparison point might be the Michael R. Roskam-directed, Denis Lehane-scripted The Drop, a low-key American crime movie that also featured a genuinely menacing bully in the form of Matthias Schoenaerts and a terrific mutt. Here, there are beasts of all shapes and sizes – the cavalcade of canines sure to give the Palm Dog jury paws for thought – and their noble natures are in striking contrast to most of the worst-in-show humans.
This is a movie about the grubbiness, pointlessness, and cowardliness of crime while simultaneously recognising that such behaviour is the inevitable consequence of terrible circumstances. The protagonists find themselves on a slide towards ruination that is both authentic and inexorable.
For more Cannes coverage, read our review of BlacKkKlansman.