Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ruff and Tumble - Matteo Garrone’s Dogman

Opening Shot: a snarling pit-bull barking right into the camera. Pull back: We see that the dog is about to get a shampoo from Marcello (Marcello Fonte). By the end of the pampering session, the dog is placid and compliant. Marcello has a way with wild animals.

Milquetoast Marcello (whose hangdog features evoke the memory of the similarly expressive Peter Lorre) lives and works in the run-down, grey coastal town of Magliana in a weathered suburb of Rome. He cares about dogs, his daughter Alida, and his reputation and good standing amongst the other local businessmen. He’s an inveterate people-pleaser - meek, loyal, a pragmatic survivor. He’s also a petty criminal and part-time cocaine dealer.

His dabbling in the latter is the start of all his problems. Bestial troublemaker Simone (Edoardo Pesce) always hits him up for free coke or whenever he needs a getaway driver at short notice. Marcello invariably acquiesces to Simone’s increasingly unreasonable demands, often to his own detriment. Marcello’s relationship with Simone raises one of the central questions of Dogman - is he unafraid of vicious animals, knowing just what he needs to do to soothe them...or is he simply too naive and trusting to know when he needs to avoid their snapping jaws?

Based on a real incident that occurred in 1988 (but don’t read too much into that), Dogman, for all its superbly realised grit, has a lovely seam of dark wit, in particular a terrific sequence which involves Marcello returning to the scene of a crime to save a chihuahua from a chilly demise.

It’s the plot machinations which shift Garrone’s compelling character study into the more conventional territory of a crime drama. Dogman is incredibly strong for at least the first three-quarters of its running time, but it did lose me somewhat as it entered its final movement. I was far more captivated following Marcello as he went about his day-to-day life.

Credit for that goes to Marcello Fonte for his magnetic central performance, the camera often lingering on that extraordinary face, his expressions nervously flitting between obsequious, warm, terrified, quizzical and disoriented as he’s bruised and battered by circumstance. “It’s a dog’s life, hunger and ease.”

Dogman is in cinemas and on demand in the UK from Friday 19th October 2018, and screens as part of the 62nd BFI London Film Festival on Sunday 14th October and Monday 15th October 2018.