Dogs yap and geezers scrap in this numbing, monotone, almost senseless study of a man driven to sycophancy, despair and eventually vengeance. It’s like being down the local. Matteo Garrone’s film is a return to gritty urban Italy, wherein a climate of rain and impulsive violence soaks the residents. It doesn’t take long to work out the allegories: the dogs are the men, the men are the dogs and the country is going to the pound.
The feature has a mesmerising central performance by Marcello Fonte as the titular “Dogman” – in fact, the name of his small veterinary service. Marcello is a weedy, ambiguous figure, conscientious around his young daughter but obsequious and enabling towards the village brute Simone (a bruising Edoardo Pesce). The protagonist takes elaborate care in fluffing, cajoling and soothing his pooches and in one extraordinary scene rescues an unfortunate chihuahua from a deep freeze. His canine love is apparently limitless.
Simone exploits Marcello not simply due to his penchant for cocaine and burglary, but in his determination to assert his local presence. And this is crucial: he affirms a menacing appearance so as not to confront himself. We have no sense of the character’s internal life. His rage is deliberately uncontrolled so that the fear will be pervasive. Too many are too scared to confront him, while those who do regret it. A splattered mannequin provides testament. Simone pushes simpering Marcello too far, extraordinarily far, but in any fight, the physical discrepancy must be mitigated: the latter is tiny, while the former is a big old pup. The monopoly of violence upholds the sovereign. If that shifts, expect to be usurped.
Garrone superficially handles, perhaps deliberately, the jarring diversions into scuba diving and prison. The director tersely hammers home the grim suburban decay that frames the characters’ conflict. Here, darkness motivates even the meekest of men. On the edge of nature, the town seems oddly spacious, even vast. The earnest metropolis of machismo is a little exhausting, the body blows too constant and willing. It deadens the senses, and the ultimate violence comes across as pathetic. Dogman is a one-two punch, fully realised, spryly executed and possible to forget.
Dogman does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Dogman here: