starring Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Nunzia Schiano, Adamo Dionisi
screenplay by Ugo Chiti, Massimo Gaudioso, Matteo Garrone
directed by Matteo Garrone
by Walter Chaw About four scenes into Matteo Garrone's Dogman, I wondered if he was going to be able to keep it up: the invention, the escalating tension, the breathless feat of being something entirely novel. I've never seen anything like Dogman. It's a crime film, a tender picture about a father and his daughter, a look at poverty, a look at addiction and maybe mental illness, a critique of masculinity at its terminal extremities, and a withering conversation about what friendship can look like between two men. It's a film that feels like a fable sometimes; like neorealism at others. It's shockingly violent and then surpassingly tender. There's a monster in Dogman, too, and while it's easy to hate and fear him, there are moments where I felt myself hoping that someone could reach him. I could even feel myself wanting his approval. The picture is unusually smart about the human condition, even though its intelligence appears to be alien in nature. It's impossible to know from one minute to the next what's going to happen in Dogman, which isn't to say it makes no sense but rather that it makes perfect sense, once it happens. It's brilliant.
All of Dogman is entirely unexpected, though there's one moment to zero in on in particular: Three-quarters of the way or more through, Marcello has scraped together enough money to take Sofia on another diving trip. Garrone shoots it from underwater, silently, as something goes wrong and Marcello surfaces. He tells Sofia he's fine. She knows he's not. On the way back to shore on a boat, Garrone watches Marcello holding Sofia and looking off at the wake they're leaving behind. He holds on the medium shot for well past the point where it makes sense. Doubt, fear, grief play across Marcello's face. It's not unlike the opera scene in Birth, or the last shot of Margaret, or even the Passion of Joan of Arc sequence in Vivre sa vie. It's devastating in a nameless way. It's poetry. Poetry in a different way is a scene set in a sex club of sorts where Marcello and Simone go to celebrate some terrible thing. Marcello is transfixed by a specific dancer but he's shy, of course--he's one part Roberto Benigni, one part Jerri Blank from "Strangers with Candy". Simone makes the woman dance with him. It's a scene like every other scene in Dogman: bristling with menace, almost suffocatingly tense, and also exhilarating, in its way. The boat sequence speaks of a father's worry for his daughter, the club sequence speaks of how men can be friends without entirely trusting each other.
Marcello's relationship with dogs is the thread that binds Dogman. He's entirely patient, affectionate, respectful. When he comes up with a plan to deal with his problems late in the game, he relies on his experience with his canine charges. His ability to manage animals instructs his relationship with Simone, who, like Marcello, is a singular invention. Simone is terrifying. He corrects Marcello at one point for something he thinks Marcello has done and it's extraordinarily not pretty. He has a way about him that's ingratiating, for all that menace. And there's a scene with Simone's mother (Nunzia Schiano) that is gloriously strange. Dogman pulls off this impossible highwire act of being completely unique while being entirely relatable. Marcello and Simone's friendship is the quintessential male relationship, while Simone's relationship with his mother is affectionate if strained and maybe a little abusive, and Marcello's love for Sofia is desperate and all-encompassing. The characters are so comprehensively developed that the stakes are impossibly high. You don't want anything to happen to Marcello or Sofia, of course, but the genius of Dogman is that you also don't want Sofia to discover her dad isn't perfect. It's personal. Sofia's mom (Laura Pizzirani) at one point pulls her away from a scene where Marcello's friends call him out for some of the decisions he's made. Sofia strains to see but the mother doesn't let her. What's most amazing about Dogman is its ability to speak truthfully using metaphor and extremity. It's art. Programme: Special Presentations