by Hope Madden
Cinema is full of lovable losers, but every so often an actor so fully inhabits a character that you can almost forget the film around him. He is no longer a disposable source of comedy or pity, but an living, breathing, bleeding human you must root for: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Scottie in Boogie Nights, Robert De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy, Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso in Midnight Cowboy.
Marcello Fonte just leapt onto the list with his deeply flawed, deeply human and beautifully realized dog groomer Marcello in Matteo Garrone’s latest, Dogman.
Slight, fidgety and endlessly kind-hearted, Marcello loves his dogs, his daughter and the neighbors in his grey little seaside slum. Sure, he sells a little coke on the side, but he doesn’t want to cause any trouble.
Unfortunately for Marcello, the behemoth Simone (Edoardo Pesce, utterly brilliant) is nothing if not a lumbering mountain of trouble.
After his darkly delightful 2015 fairy tale outing Tale of Tales, Garrone returns to the heavier Italian realism of Gomorrah. He hasn’t abandoned allegory, though.
Given his nation’s political history and current leanings, it isn’t tough to draw metaphor from the tale of an unthinking bully and the population who cows to him. (This is not a tough metaphor for Americans to fathom, either.)
Not that it pulls attention away from Marcello. The film has themes of the classic Western, a good man pushed to dark means to protect what he has. But in this case, Marcello is an almost feminine presence among the cash-for-gold shop or video game arcade owners who share his strip of town. Marcello is liked, if not exactly respected.
Childlike is what he is, a pack animal but never the alpha. As his story progresses, Garrone’s tight grip on the narrative and its visual emphasis turn the film from that of an underdog’s struggle to something sadder and grander.
As hope mixes with hopelessness, Dogman raises questions it never really answers, and ultimately feels wearily confused and disappointed by people.