Talking Pictures

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Dogman, Italy 2018

Posted by keith1942 on October 31, 2018

This is the new feature by Matteo Garrone, the director of the 2008 Gomorrah, a powerful drama about members of a crime organisation in the Naples area. This is also in a way a crime film but with a rather different type of plot; it shares the downbeat tone and resolution of the earlier film.

This new title is set in an outer suburb of Rome close to the River Tiber. This is a small run-down enclave with a plain square, a few shops and businesses and a number of high-rise flats. The central character is Marcello (Marcello Fonte), the ‘dogman’ of the title. He runs a small and basic dog parlour offering both grooming and shampoos with some boarding accommodation. The latter is very basic as is the exercising of the dogs which we see at one point.

The canine performers are only part of the setting for the film, though we see quite a lot of them. Marcello’s own dog is Jack, a cross-breed. He has slightly more to do then the varied breeds seen in the parlour but he is not a fully developed character.

This treatment is reserved for Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce), a great hulk of man, an ex-boxer who appears to have suffered mentally from his occupation. Simon terrorizes the local community. It seems he is repeatedly jailed for minor offences but only for short periods; then returning to carry on his antisocial behaviour. Marcello is part of a business/friendship circle at a local bar where the men discuss ‘dealing’ with Simon, but go no further.

Because Marcello, as a side-line, provides Simon with cocaine he has more dealings with him. And it is this relationship that leads to the more and more problematic situation. Whilst Marcello vainly tries to avoid increasing involvement in crime he also cares for his daughter who lives with his separated wife. I assumed that the holidays they take together, underwater explorations , are fuelled by his drug dealing.

Marcello’s path is downhill all through the film. He struck me as the ‘biggest loser’ I have ever seen in a film, venturing into actions that screamed disaster, if not to him then certainly to the audience. The climax of the film comes when he has to confront his unequal relationship with Simon. This includes what can be seen as a ‘compulsory scene [one that the audience becomes increasingly impatient for].

The film is as bleak as the earlier Gomorrah. The flat landscape in and around the suburb, and also among the marshes where Marcello makes a brief visit, offers uninviting vistas. The underwater world visited by Marcello and his daughter provides a vivid and more exotic contrast. The cinematography by Nicolaj Brüel, using a digital format, uses the former to great effect, There is a noir feel to the evening sequences whilst daytime is flattened out to a grim but bright palette,

Michele Braga sparse music adds to this feeling of grim reality.

The screenplay is the work of a trio, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, who also wrote Gomorrah; and there are four other writers credited as collaborators. The way the story intertwines the characters and the places is excellent and the narrative works up to a powerful climax. This focuses totally on Marcello and Simoncino, leaving us little wiser about the daughter or the other in habitants, who remain predominately ciphers in the story.

The film offers a strong realist feel to place and characters though the plot tends more towards melodrama. This is a fine piece of film-making though it is as downbeat as a film can get. It has the tragic feel of some of the classics of earlier decades, including those from neorealism.

The film is in colour and in a ratio of 2.35:1 circulating in a 2K DCP. The print in Britain has English sub-titles. I saw the film at the Tyneside Cinema, my first visit. This is  a multi-screen independent. It is impressive how they have fitted all the facilities into the one building. And the venue offers a varied and interesting programme.


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