Imagine an Italy of dilapidated beach fronts, trash on the street, tetanus-rusted seesaws creaking in the wind. Sunlight streaming through busted blinds; gangly, rat-tailed drug-runners instead of gondoliers. Imagine the kind of place where angry men owe angrier men money, where angel-winged women strip on stage or glower from kitchen tables.
Such abandon and seedy ruin mark the filmscapes of Matteo Garrone, whose Dogman premiered in New York on April 12. Opening with a shot for the canine ages (the crime drama nabbed the “Palm Dog” at Cannes), a dazzling white pit bull lunges his jaws at dog groomer, Marcello (Marcello Fonte), the film’s good-hearted protagonist. “Amore!” Marcello, seemingly half the animal’s size, sings. “Easy, sweetie. I’ll give you a shampoo ….” As he lathers the massive mastiff with a mop from a yard away, their kenneled companions watch with a mix of what looks like curiosity and pity. Moments later, the same creature is basking in the warmth of a blow dry, transformed from vicious to hilariously indulged.
Balancing verité grit with sometimes-howling humor, Dogman takes a subtler, tenderer turn than Garrone fans might anticipate. “I was almost ready to start to shoot, and then the producer fortunately changed his mind,” the director said of the movie’s 12-year delay, in an interview last fall. “Fortunately, because the script was not good enough. I was not a father at the time, and an important part of the movie is the relationship between Marcello and his daughter. As I went back and changed the script, it reflects how I was changing over the years.”
Marcello’s devotion to daughter Alida — coaching her on primping a pageant poodle, going snorkeling in the Mediterranean — carries over to his broader compassion for the defenseless. (His Chihuahua-defrosting skills alone are worth the price of a ticket.) Before being cast as Marcello, Fonte worked as a guardian at a Roman theater, playing bit movie and television roles on the side. Dwarfed at five foot three by both man and beast, the actor boasts the weathered sinew of an Egon Schiele figure, but he is splendidly nimble on the move. As evidenced in Garrone’s 2008 gangster epic Gomorrah, the director loves a man who can scramble up a drainage pipe, and Fonte doesn’t disappoint. “Marcello put the movie on his shoulders,” the director phrased it, and the battle scars brocade his visage as he seems to age before our eyes.
As in Gomorrah, drugs flow through Dogman as an inevitable, if banal, form of social currency — Marcello’s esteem among his soccer pals hardly stems from his footwork on the field. But unlike the previous film, Dogman plays like a blessedly (albeit brutally) simple revenge fable, our hero’s tenderness gradually tested by his loyalty to coke-fueled tyrant Simoncino, a man who busts a slot machine with his forehead before hounding his featherweight friend for a hit. No two men could be more different in physique and demeanor, and several critics have compared their relationship to that between dog and master. But such a conflation neglects the layers of ego, cunning, and masculine power plays that culminate in one of the most unforgettable acts of solo vigilantism to appear onscreen since The Revenant. Garrone, who co-wrote the script, explained in the aforementioned interview that, “Marcello remained trapped in a mechanism of violence till the end — he becomes violent to save himself.”
With its cynophilia, unflinching lens, and cast of mostly unknowns, Dogman easily draws comparisons to one of the best Neorealist films of the last century: Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D from 1952. Both Garrone and De Sica throw the realities of class inequality into bleak relief, and both orbit protagonists (and pups) plagued by what De Sica revered as “sorrowful dignity.” But the similarities end there. As the late Roger Ebert described Umberto, played by septuagenarian university lecturer Carlo Battisti: “He is observant, understanding, sympathetic. He doesn’t rail against the injustice of the world, but is simply determined to defend the corner he occupies with his dog.” Not so for Fonte’s Marcello, whose redemption comes less from staid endurance than newfound indignation.
In the film’s final scene, the Dogman carries the world “on his shoulders” to a shockingly literal degree. The film ends with only the sounds of the sea for comfort, a dog wagging his dirty tail, seeking a spot to lie down.
Dogman is playing at the Film Forum (209 West Houston Street, West Village, Manhattan) and various venues nationwide.
Special Edition: 🖌️Artists’ Signatures ✍️
In this special edition, we investigate what artists’ signatures actually mean, and the fascinating results reveal the multifaceted history of this curious phenomenon.
What Is a Signature in the Internet Age?
As a cryptographic unit for record-keeping, an NFT can be seen as analogous to a signature or an autograph.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
The Meaning of Ancient Greek and Roman Artisan Signatures
What did a signature mean in the ancient world, and how much can we trust what they seem to tell us?
Michelangelo’s Signature and the Myth of Genius
Michelangelo served as a stellar example for future artists who sought status and economic independence.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Uncovering the Photographer Behind Arshile Gorky’s Most Famous Painting
As we pursue photographer Hovhannes Avedaghayan a fascinating picture begins to emerge of him and the world of which he was part.
100 Years of Artist Signatures in a Detroit Club
The beams in Detroit’s Scarab Club act as a guest book of sorts, carrying a wealth of stories and history, including signatures by Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Isamu Noguchi, and others.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
The Myth of Agency Around Artists’ Signatures
In an art world built on shifting sands, artists’ signatures become symbols of agency for some, and relics of the past for others.
The Women Artists Commemorated on an NYC Sidewalk
The signatures of Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, and six other historical women artists are engraved on a small stretch of sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.