Dogman is based on real events, a gruesome crime, that took place in Italy in 1988. I’m glad I forgot that fact, and I’m glad that I didn’t read any details about that real-life gruesome crime before I saw the film. Everything about the film, its location and its characters and its washed-out cinematography, filled me with a sense of dread. And that dread only intensified when Simone, the antagonist in the narrative, makes his first appearance in Marcello’s dog grooming shop. Marcello, the main character, comes across as such a nice guy. He can tame any dog, and he loves his daughter more than anything else in the world, but he is no match for Simone, at least, not for most of the film.
There are few opening credits, just the producers’ credits, then a black screen, then a close-up of a barking, snarling, growling dog. With its fangs bared, the dog strains on its chain. It’s the perfect metaphor for the entire film, and it is very effective for setting the tone. Marcello is finally able to calm the dog; it even follows his commands eventually as he bathes it. But he’s not going to have such good luck with Simone. I don’t feel like I’m giving anything away by stating this. If the film’s opening doesn’t convince you of Marcello’s bad luck, the cover of the DVD certainly would. It comes with the tagline, “VENGEANCE UNLEASHED.”
(This blog post about Dogman contains some spoilers.)
Marcello has his own business called Dogman in a seaside town. He works in his own store, which is situated in a row of dilapidated storefronts. He is friends with Franco, the store owner next door. He takes his daughter Alida for an afternoon, and she helps him with the dogs in the store. This is when Simone makes his first appearance. Marcello is one of the local coke dealers, and Simone shows up to buy some coke from Marcello. Marcello tells Simone he cannot have any coke because his daughter is in the store, but Simone insists. Then he insists on snorting it before leaving the store, even though Marcello begs him not to.
Everything about Simone alarmed me from the beginning, and it was obvious from the beginning that Marcello wasn’t going to stand up to him. This fact is reinforced in the next scene, when Simone and one of his friends force Marcello to drive the getaway car (his own van) for a robbery. When they mention that they put a barking chihuahua in the freezer to shut it up and keep it from drawing attention to their crime, Marcello goes back to the scene of the crime by himself to rescue it. The dog is almost completely frozen, but he’s able to warm it up and “bring it back to life,” so to speak. He risks getting arrested to rescue the dog, and he has little to show for his part in the crime driving the getaway car. Simone and his friend give Marcello some jewelry, but it’s a lot less than he was hoping for. He sells it in a pawn shop and doesn’t get much for his trouble.
Simone forces Marcello to give him the key to his shop so that Simone can tunnel through the connecting walls and rob Franco’s shop next door. Marcello doesn’t want to do it because Franco is a friend, but Simone threatens Marcello, who gives in rather than face more violence. But it isn’t long before Simone’s robbery is discovered. The police pick up Marcello because they know he is an associate of Simone’s. They know that Simone is behind it all, that he threatened Marcello.
But Marcello won’t squeal on a friend. The police inspector takes him to the station for questioning because he won’t talk at his store, at one of the scenes of the crime. Marcello still won’t squeal on Simone, however. He won’t sign the papers incriminating Simone. The police are eager to get Simone off the street. I got the feeling that he had been a thorn in their side for quite a while. But nothing the police inspector says will change Marcello’s mind. Even the threat of jail won’t convince him, and he is sent to prison.
Simone’s methods are common knowledge. Everyone in town knows exactly what he’s like. There was even talk earlier by one of the characters in the film of hiring someone to kill him, to take him off their hands and let them have some peace. The police are well aware of him and of many of his activities, but they need evidence. When Marcello was being interrogated by the police inspector, it struck me that Marcello inhabits a claustrophobic world from which there may be no escape—unless he is willing to speak up, that is. He is the main character; the story is told from his point of view. When other characters come into his life, viewers finally get a perspective outside his world. It’s hard not to feel trapped all over again when the narrative continues with Marcello’s point of view.
After Marcello’s imprisonment, the film cuts to one year later: Marcello is out of prison and returns to his shop. It’s now also his home, and he sets up a bed to sleep there. Marcello’s daughter comes to visit, and they are happy to see one another. Franco, the shop owner next door and the victim of Simone’s robbery, is angry with Marcello, however. He comes pounding on Marcello’s storefront and tells him that he wants him out of his own store. He calls Marcello a traitor, which Alida hears as she leaves with her mother. None of Marcello’s friends want to see him anymore.
Marcello tries to get his share from the robbery of Franco’s store. Simone promised to pay him for his trouble, but once Marcello is out of prison, he refuses to give him any money, and the film takes a small turn: Marcello takes a tire iron to Simone’s motorcycle. Will this show of force finally turn the tide for Marcello?
Throughout the film, Marcello seems resigned to his fate. He remains loyal to Simone, despite overwhelming evidence that such loyalty isn’t deserved. Much of his fate comes in the wake of decisions he makes before the film even starts. He chooses to be a friend of Simone’s, but he gets nothing in return. I think viewers are supposed to feel sorry for Marcello; this is a man who rescues a dog trapped in a freezer, and he is a loving father to his daughter Alida. But what father would put himself and potentially his family in such jeopardy by aligning with a brute like Simone? My feeling of dread that started at Simone’s first appearance was well founded.
You might think from what I have written so far that I didn’t enjoy Dogman, but that’s not true. I would say that it inspired a mixture of dread and fascination. It’s one of those films where you think you know things cannot possibly end well, but you just cannot turn away until you see it for yourself. The film is noir through and through. The sense of foreboding alone is a good qualification. But there’s also the sense of fatalism that permeates the film, and Marcello’s resignation to his fateful circumstances. The story and the town are filmed in color, but everything is washed out. Marcello lives by the sea, but it’s easy to forget that fact because every setting includes drab concrete. Dogman is actually a great story, but it’s a hard one to watch.
May 16, 2018 (Cannes), May 17, 2018 (Italy) release dates • Directed by Matteo Garrone • Screenplay by Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso • Based on a story by Ugo Chiti, Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Marco Perfetti, Giulio Troli • Music by Michele Braga • Edited by Marco Spoletini • Cinematography by Nicolaj Brüel
Marcello Fonte as Marcello • Edoardo Pesce as Simoncino (aka Simone) • Alida Baldari Calabria as Alida, Marcello’s daughter • Laura Pizzirani as Alida’s mother • Nunzia Schiano as Simoncino’s mother • Adamo Dionisi as Franco • Francesco Acquaroli as Francesco • Aniello Arena as the police inspector • Mirko Frezza as Mirko, the coke dealer
Distributed by 01 Distribution • Produced by Archimede, Le Pacte