Dis­trict ca­nine

DOGMAN I The Go­mor­rah di­rec­tor is back with a tale of hard nuts, hard­ship and hounds…

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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.

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