DOGMAN I The Gomorrah director is back with a tale of hard nuts, hardship and hounds…
Ilike movies with superheroes,” says Italian writer-director Matteo Garrone, when asked if the title of his Cannes-winning social-realist drama – a film concerned with notions of good guys and bad guys – is something of a wry joke. “But in this case, our character had a nice relationship with the dogs, so we used this title.”
The character in question is dog-groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte). Separated from his wife and only seeing his beloved daughter when she visits, he is one of life’s underdogs, eking out a living on a dilapidated estate fringed by a desolate shore. But scrubbing mangy mutts doesn’t pay for the sun-soaked holidays that Marcello lavishes upon his daughter.
That cash is raised peddling cocaine, and his best customer is also his worst – Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a Rottweiler of a man who vacuums Marcello’s supply but rarely pays for it, trading on the promise of friendship and the threat of violence. Only our hangdog hero is about to bare his teeth…
“He acts with the eyes, he’s amazing,” says Garrone of Fonte, who stands 5ft 3in in his threadbare socks but gives a towering performance
– a Best Actor accolade at Cannes was fully deserved. “The first time I saw him, I saw the possibility to make a modern Buster Keaton – someone who could be comic and tragic. He can interact with the dogs. He can be funny with the daughter. He can be sweet. A human character. That’s why you suffer with him.”
Made between 2015’s dark fantasy Tale Of Tales and next year’s Pinocchio, Dogman sees Garrone return to the gritty terrain of 2008’s street-level Mafia pic Gomorrah. It’s even based on a true story… one that the writerdirector found simultaneously attractive and repulsive.
“I liked the idea of these dogs that became the first audience to this brutal fight between two men,” he says. “But at the same time, it was so macabre, you know? The torture is very famous. So my attraction and distance went up and down for 12 years.” He shakes his head, laughing. “For me, I was more interested in the psychological aspect of the violence. The tragedy of the story is how violence enters the life of a man who is completely peaceful.”
It’s sombre material, shot with a murky lens, and there’s an allegory as to the threat of fascism should you choose to look for it. But Dogman also radiates warmth and love and the indomitable human spirit, while the canine ensemble is a delight.
“We won the Palm Dog!” cries Garrone, referring to the Cannes award given out by international critics to honour the best performance by a hound. “Now that’s something.”
ETA | 19 OCTOBER / DOGMAN OPENS THIS AUTUMN.
Marcello Fonte as the meek animal lover struggling to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of his rough estate.