Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Because Simone is so one-note, it's hard to fully swallow the lengths Marcello ultimately goes to in order to shield him." | Photo: Archimedes SRL- Le Pacte SAS

If you've ever wondered what it might have been like to see Peter Sellers get trapped in a mafia movie while channelling Peter Lorre, Dogman offers some sort of answer.

Matteo Garrone's film is set in a part of southern Italy that is so grey and rundown it could easily stand in for a beach on the industrial fringes of the north of England. It's a place where fairground rides have been left to rot and the community is also on the brink of festering.

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Here is where Marcello (Marcello Fonte) plies his trade as a dog groomer, his gentle "cutie-pie" patter with his charges at extreme odds with the violent tendencies of some of them and the fact that the cages he confines them to make them look like condemned souls at the back of his shop. It soon emerges, however, that he may not be quite so hapless as his gangling ineptitude suggests, when we see him dealing coke on the side.

Chief among his customers is Simone (Edoardo Pesce), a walking wall of anger and meat whom one of the townsfolk, unsurprisingly, describes as "a mad dog". Garrone is certainly not hiding his metaphors under a bushel. The dogs in this film only come in two sizes - tiny as Chihuahuas or hulking mastiffs and Great Danes - and the same is true of the people and their actions. The writer/director (and his team of collaborators) pour all their efforts into Marcello - at the expense of virtually everyone else - but Fonte responds in kind, his nuanced performance allowing the increasingly twisted psychology to come to the fore in ways that keep the film interesting to the last.

Who is grooming who and the idea of blind loyalty in the face of ever-more abhorrent actions lie at the heart of the film, the political allegory thinly veiled. Marcello appears, at least initially, to believe he is the one who is taming Simone, presumably hoping to benefit from the bigger man's physical strength and, potentially, also as a source of cash. At the same time, however, he is oblivious to the fact that it is he who is being put on a choke chain by Simone, given titbits in a sex club or bent to the bigger man's will by violence.

The most interesting idea here is that Marcello doesn't get out when he can - but it also poses a problem for Garrone. Because Simone is so one-note, it's hard to fully swallow the lengths Marcello ultimately goes to in order to shield him. This is exacerbated by the fact that the film builds, in its early part, a rather touching subplot involving Marcello and his young daughter (Alida Baldari Calabria) and his willingness to sideline what might happen to her seems out of character. The director spends a lot of time grooming us to accept what happens but by the end, as the inevitable tragedy unfolded in all-too predictable fashion, I couldn't help feeling I'd been sold a pup.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2018
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A dog groomer finds himself groomed to commit crime.
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Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Ugo Chiti

Starring: Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Adamo Dionisi, Francesco Acquaroli, Gianluca Gobbi,

Year: 2018

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Italy, France

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