DOG EAT DOG

ITAL­IAN FILM BITES BACK WITH GRITTY CRIME TALE

The New European - - Eurofile Cinema -

When you’ve made one of the most fa­mous and most dan­ger­ous Ital­ian films of the cen­tury, it might be easy to beat a re­treat. But Mat­teo Gar­rone is not that sort of di­rec­tor. Ten years af­ter he made

Go­mor­rah and lifted the lid on the per­va­sive power of the south­ern Ital­ian mafia (the Camorra), he’s back on sim­i­lar ter­rain with his lat­est film,

Dog­man.

Roberto Sa­viano, the man who wrote the orig­i­nal book on which Gar­rone based Go­mor­rah, re­mains in hid­ing un­der po­lice pro­tec­tion (although still makes reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances on tele­vi­sion talk shows) yet a Go­mor­rah spin-off is now on its third sea­son as one of

Europe’s most-watched TV shows while Gar­rone marches on as one of the lead­ing lights of a re­nascent Ital­ian film in­dus­try.

“I’m not in­volved in the TV show,” Gar­rone tells me, with a cer­tain dis­dain. “I don’t want to be be­cause the ap­proach is very dif­fer­ent. I’m not at all jeal­ous of it even though it’s prob­a­bly even more pop­u­lar now than when I made the film. For me, the crime as­pect should be an op­por­tu­nity to talk about the hu­man con­di­tion, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween death, life and the de­sire to change your­self.

“You can say many things about my movie of Go­mor­rah, but you can’t ac­cuse me of glam­or­is­ing crime. I make it look very mis­er­able, no? I shoot with the real crim­i­nals, too, but I don’t name names. I want to show how hu­man be­ings live in a sys­tem of fear and loy­alty and how they sur­vive in this jun­gle. I wasn’t about de­nounc­ing in­di­vid­u­als, but I saw how they were in­spired by cin­ema, how they based their whole man­ner on bad­dies from films. I had a friend who was an ar­chi­tect and one of the mafia asked him to build him a house and he gave him a DVD of Al Pa­cino in Scar­face and told him ‘Make me a villa like Tony Mon­tana’s’.”

Dog­man has a sim­i­larly height­ened re­la­tion­ship to re­al­ity. Gar­rone again shoots in Cam­pa­nia, the hard­scrab­ble re­gion south of Naples and away from the glam­our of the Amalfi coast. It’s the story of a dog groomer, Mar­cello, played by Mar­cello Fonte, in his first ma­jor role – for which he won best ac­tor at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val last May.

Mar­cello deals with these caged beasts in the run­down hous­ing es­tate (shot on the real-life, aban­doned sea­side re­sort of Vil­lag­gio Cop­pola), but he’s hav­ing trou­ble han­dling lo­cal bully Si­mon­cino (a bruiser of a per­for­mance by Edoardo Pesce), who’s al­ways bang­ing at

Mar­cello’s door, de­mand­ing more of the co­caine the groomer deals on the side.

Ital­ian di­rec­tor Mat­teo Gar­rone talks to JA­SON SOLOMONS about his lat­est film, Dog­man, which un­earths some un­usual stars... some with two legs, some with four

Soon, Si­moncini drags Mar­cello along on one of his rob­beries be­fore forc­ing him to help in an even more stupid crime, one which will get Mar­cello into ru­inous trou­ble.

Fonte is per­fect in the role. He’s sweet with the dogs, which range from cute chi­huahua to growl­ing, teeth-bar­ing mon­sters and pit bulls, and he has some­thing of the lap dog about him, too.

Dog­man is also the story of the weak man find­ing some re­venge amid the grim wreck­age of his life.

“I fell in love with Mar­cello when I first saw his au­di­tion tape,” re­calls Gar­rone. “He has a won­der­ful face and a ten­der­ness as well as this comic as­pect, which was cru­cial for me for this story, be­cause I wanted it light and funny at the start and then to get darker. He has a face that comes from an Italy that is dis­ap­pear­ing , the old Italy of the south. It’s a face from Pa­solini films, you know, like the ac­tor Ninetto Davoli.”

As well as cast­ing real-life mafiosi in

Gom­morah (the seg­ment of the film with the two wild young boys was also filmed in Vil­lag­gio Cop­pola), Gar­rone has a habit of find­ing his ac­tors in the most un­likely places. For his 2010 film Re­al­ity, about a Naples fish­er­man dream­ing of go­ing on Big Brother, his lead ac­tor couldn’t at­tend Cannes be­cause he was still serv­ing a 22-year jail sen­tence. Find­ing Mar­cello Fonte was just as un­usual, a “tragic co­in­ci­dence”, as Gar­rone de­scribes it.

Fonte comes from a poor ru­ral fam­ily and trav­elled to Rome dream­ing of work­ing as an ac­tor. He lived rough in an old the­atre that had been con­verted to a home­less shel­ter. Af­ter a while,

Fonte be­came the place’s care­taker and would watch when lo­cal com­mu­nity groups used the space for re­hearsals and drama re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grammes for of­fend­ers.

“I sent my cast­ing di­rec­tor out to find in­ter­est­ing faces and on one day he popped into this old the­atre,” re­calls Gar­rone. “Well the guy who was play­ing the lead role in the re­hearsal had a heart at­tack in the bath­room and died. Mar­cello was the care­taker, so he ar­ranged to clean up the body and then, be­cause he’d been watch­ing the ac­tors, vol­un­teered to take the dead guy’s place. That’s when my cast­ing man spot­ted him and made a tape of him for me to watch.”

Fonte’s pres­ence makes the film, and it’s a fairy­tale story for him to have gone on to win at Cannes. “But he is still liv­ing at that place,” re­marks Gar­rone. “What I look for is some­one who has a back­ground that lends the char­ac­ter some­thing deeper, so it’s a mar­riage be­tween the char­ac­ter that I’m writ­ing and the ac­tual per­son. Re­al­ity al­ways plays a part for me.”

While the face-off be­tween the sim­per­ing Mar­cello and the hulk­ing Si­mon­cino forms the chief drama of Dog­man, the other stars of the show are the dogs. Cru­cially, the ca­nines are never al­lowed to be too cute, the trap film mak­ers often fall into when us­ing an­i­mals. “Yes, they can be­come sub­sti­tutes for emo­tions and I wanted them for dif­fer­ent things – the dog in the first scene, which is a huge one, he’s a metaphor for what’s to come, the theme of the whole story. I wanted to show how a peace­ful guy will have to han­dle the threat of vi­o­lence around him, how he can tame it and stroke it but still be trapped.”

I won­der how Fonte, an ac­tor of lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence, could work so freely with these an­i­mals? It’s quite ex­tra­or­di­nary watch­ing him ca­ress them and talk to them, tak­ing on some of their

char­ac­ter­is­tics. “Well it’s re­ally a story about a loss of in­no­cence and Mar­cello is like a child and the dogs seemed to re­spond to him. I let him just im­pro­vise with them, which was a bit dan­ger­ous with some of the big­ger an­i­mals I guess. But he was calm. I was more ner­vous be­cause I was hold­ing the cam­era go­ing in very close to Mar­cello and these big pant­ing dogs, so if he ever got bit­ten, I would be next in line.”

There’s some­thing more po­lit­i­cal at play here, too, an eter­nal bat­tle be­tween the weak and the mighty and I ask Gar­rone if the cur­rent cli­mate in Europe and Italy might have fed into the film while he was mak­ing it. “Def­i­nitely some­thing was hap­pen­ing. What I like about work­ing in Italy, is that it’s a place with many dif­fer­ent uni­verses, both an­cient and mod­ern, and I think when you make a movie, pe­riod or con­tem­po­rary, it’s vi­tal you put what you feel about your own life and so­ci­ety in there, so prob­a­bly in Dog­man there is a hint about this wind of right-wing power that’s com­ing every­where, that’s in there some­where.

“The ques­tion be­came: how do you sur­vive this, get through it, fight for your own opin­ions? But it’s not as sim­ple as say­ing, oh the bully Si­mon­cino is the right and Mar­cello is the good guy on the left. It’s much more com­plex, I hope. It’s a metaphor of an Ital­ian so­ci­ety and uni­verse: how does a per­son live in a world that is in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent around them?”

While Italy it­self, like much of Europe, is go­ing through a vig­or­ous po­lit­i­cal shake-up, Ital­ian cin­ema finds it­self in one of its strong­est po­si­tions for years. Be­fore its re­lease, Gar­rone’s Dog­man – al­ready put for­ward as his coun­try’s en­try for the for­eign lan­guage Os­car – has its UK pre­miere at the up­com­ing BFI Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val, along­side seven other Ital­ian films.

“Yes, it’s a good mo­ment for our cin­ema,” he says. “What’s im­por­tant is that this gen­er­a­tion of very dif­fer­ent film mak­ers and gen­res, we’ve found an au­di­ence in Italy and out­side Italy and we are not known for just one type of film any­more.”

That said, Gar­rone’s next project couldn’t be more Ital­ian. It’s a pro­duc­tion of Pinoc­chio, at­tempt­ing to be true to the orig­i­nal work of Carlo Col­lodi. “It’s my ca­reer sui­cide,” he says with a big laugh. Be­cause Pinoc­chio, like Don Quixote, has al­ways held some­thing of curse for those who dare make it.

“Maybe I’m a masochist,” says

Gar­rone, show­ing me artist draw­ings of the spe­cial ef­fects and pros­thet­ics he will use for his vi­sion of the story. “The first sto­ry­board draw­ing I ever did was when I was six years old (his fa­ther was a film

maker, af­ter all) and it’s of Pinoc­chio and I still have that draw­ing, on my desk now, to push away any bad luck. I think all my films have had some­thing of Pinoc­chio in them, peo­ple dream­ing of be­com­ing some­thing else with a wish.”

He will be­ing film­ing his Pinoc­chio early next year, us­ing Ital­ian ac­tors, all in Ital­ian. He has just dis­cov­ered that his ver­sion will have some stiff com­pe­ti­tion as Dis­ney are mak­ing a live ac­tion ver­sion of their own fa­mous car­toon.

“Mine will be a much darker ver­sion I’m sure, but they are a big com­peti­tor, of course, and we are in a di­rect race. It’s a bit like Dog­man – they are the big bully, and I’m just the lit­tle Ital­ian guy try­ing not to be bit­ten.”

Photo: Cur­zon

TEN­DER­NESS: Mar­cello Fonte stars in Dog­man

Photo: Cle­mens Bi­lan EPA - Pool/getty Im­ages

FA­MIL­IAR GROUND: Di­rec­tor Mat­teo Gar­rone at a press con­fer­ence for Dog­man at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val

Pho­tos: Cur­zon

DIS­COV­ERY:1, 2 Mar­cello Fonte won the best ac­tor award at Cannes for his per­for­mance in Dog­man, his first ma­jor role3 Fonte in a scene from the film with co-star Edoardo Pesce

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