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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS A well-meaning dog-groomer (and small time drug-dealer) is forced to confront a violent neighbour.

Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce


There’s a school of Italian film that drops its audiences into a world that is both immediately familiar yet eerily surreal. Consider BOYS CRY or Edoardo De Angelis’ 2016 sensation INDIVISIBLE about conjoined girls ‘pimped’ by their family to sing at weddings and baptisms. While Matteo Garrone’s DOGMAN is utterly unrelated in story, it shares a similar, disconcerting sense of time and place - one that is immediately Italian yet far, far from the tourist trail.

This is a world where austerity still commands a firm grip, grinding his characters in a poverty trap of crumbling streets and a deserted beach bathed in greasy, fluorescent light. It’s an unpleasant, unhappy place, tinged with violence. It’s where those who might have inhabited the director’s sensational GOMORRAH a decade ago would find themselves today.

Yet in the middle of this despair is the gentle, likeable Marcello who makes a very modest living grooming dogs and selling cocaine on the side. Respected by his friends and neighbours, the Dogman has a sizeable problem in the form of ex-boxer Simone, a meathead who loves coke as much as he loves intimidating his supplier and generally terrorising the neighbourhood. Eventually he pushes Marcello too far, and Marcello pushes back. As the poster says, everyone has a breaking point.

Newcomer Marcello Fonte is splendid in the lead role, evoking FARGO era Steve Buscemi with a twitchy like-ability that slowly turns into forceful defiance as his character turns from flight to fight. Garrone gives him plenty to work with in a fully fleshed character whose circumstances take him to unexpected places. More exciting, its a shockingly realistic portrayal of what happens when a good man snaps in the face of selfish immorality.

Despite the inevitable bone-crunching violence, this is somewhat easier to handle than GOMORRAH’s bloodbath because of where the violence stems from. It’s gruesome, certainly, yet the rationale seems more understandable, more forgivable, less evil. This time we’re there is a good guy, and this variation on David v Goliath gives DOGMAN an opportunity to run a commentary on Man v World, and the consequences of denying a person's dignity, of pushing a person beyond their breaking point.

It also allows Garrone to flex his accomplished, artistic muscle. The intimidating world he creates is gloriously off-balance and one that is quite unforgettable (not for good reasons). It's one that's both frightening and beautiful. The result is a film that grabs you by the scruff of the neck then throw you to the curb as strung out as Marcello himself. Intense isn’t the half of it.

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