Opens: August 29
Genre: Realist crime drama
Duration: 102 minutes

Italian director Matteo Garrone burst onto the international scene a decade ago with Gomorrah, a powerful series of stories based on true-life incidents involving the Neapolitan mafia’s vice-like grip over the region’s everyday life. His latest film boils down that approach to a tale of a single character who’s part of a close-knit community in a seedy Italian beachside suburb. From the jolting first shot to the desperately sad final one, the film is a knockout that left me at the climax feeling floored, almost breathless.

Dogman

Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is a middle-aged man with two loves in his poverty-stricken life: a young daughter from a former relationship, and the dogs that come through his grungy grooming salon. He treats both with tenderness and devotion, giving the aggressive animals as much care as the untroubled ones.

A good, albeit somewhat naïve, man, his one moral flaw is a small-time sideline in cocaine deals. This latter activity unfortunately puts him in the orbit of a very dangerous person, local thug Simone (Edoardo Pesce). I’ll leave readers to discover how this plays out. Suffice to say Marcello will find himself fighting to escape an environment of limited or non-existent options.

Garrone doesn’t put a foot wrong. There isn’t a single scene that feels flabby or doesn’t follow a strict internal logic of narrative and character. The film is tough and grimy, certainly, and at times maybe a little too confronting for some, but its moments of violence are not exploitative and its huge heart powers it through the dark moments without sentimentality. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the film can stand tall next to Italian neo-realist classics such as Ossessione and Umberto D.

With his hugely expressive eyes, Fonte (an amateur actor in a community centre drama that Garrone met by chance) is a major reason Dogman works so devastatingly well. Little wonder he took the Cannes best actor trophy for the role. It’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role.

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