Italian cinema has had a long history of excellence, giving audiences years of charming and emotional characters, thought-provoking stories and soaring musical scores. For many Western audiences, these films are exactly like the picture-perfect postcard images of Italy.
But for director Matteo Garrone however, interest lies not in stereotypes but in grim reality; the Italy of his films is an Italy not showcased by tourist boards, yet one that a surprising amount of Italians find themselves in. And it is this Italy that is once again the backdrop for his latest film Dogman, another gripping and striking entry in his audacious filmography.
As with his other films, Dogman is a film built around a side of Italy not frequently acknowledged by foreigners or Italians themselves for that matter. Why should it be? After all who wants to talk about lower class people, inner-city neighborhoods and crime and corruption amongst the poorer population? Yet Garrone’s work including 2008’s acclaimed Gomorrah and 2012’s Cannes Grand Prix winner Reality has never shied away from these topics, presenting a new and fresh side to 21st-century Italian filmmaking.
Dogman will surely rank then amongst his most effective works; set in the underbelly of Magliana a part of the Roman city limits, audiences may be shocked to see the landscape and may wonder, is this Italy? There is poorly maintained infrastructure, dirty streets and beaches and a section of society nearly ostracized by the wealthier classes.
In this environment lives Marcello (Marcello Fonte) as the eponymous Dogman – a simple-minded yet good-natured dog groomer. Well-liked by the community, he supplements his grooming business by dealing cocaine; a venture that puts him in contact with Simone (Edoardo Pesce), an irascible and violent thug. Although he tries to break away from Simone’s vile influence, Marcello follows a perverse sense of loyalty that leaves him unable to confront the evil forces in his life. Only when this mild-mannered animal lover is pushed to his extremes and shunned from his friends does he begin his plans of revenge against the man who soured his existence.
This is a masterfully tragic and saddening tale that spotlights the dark side of humanity. Fonte creates a pitiful character, almost like the scraggly dogs he looks after and viewers are made to sympathize with his situation and cheer him on, even in the midst of his lowest moments.
Garrone and his fellow screenwriters have made Marcello an embodiment not solely of the average lower middle class Italian, but of us all. Like many accomplices in criminal activity, motives are not always what they seem. The Dogman just wants to provide for his daughter and earn the acceptance of his neighbors, but the domination of Simone proves to be a tough burden to get rid of.
While it may seem that there is nothing but melancholy offered, Dogman is ultimately a movie about hope. A hope that goodness can prevail and that wickedness can be confronted, even if it is a difficult task. There is a universal commentary given by Garrone on the desperation of man in conditions of squalor and the attempts made to assuage misery. Marcello’s forays into crime are never defended, but his reasoning behind them are indeed sympathetic and tragic.
Like his earlier work, Matteo Garrone has proved himself to be a star in the new wave of Italian cinema; a reputation solidified with Dogman. Though the unseen side of Italy is used for a narrative backdrop. Garrone’s films are also astutely about the sad component of the human condition. With this realist lens, he has once again produced a gripping work of film, both dreadful and hopeful. It is indeed another worthy chapter in this director’s catalog and a successful addition in the esteemed pantheon of Italian cinema.