Tag Archives: Matteo Garrone

Pack Animal


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.


Once Upon a Time…

Tale of Tales

by Hope Madden

The concept of the fairy tale has been sterilized over the centuries, evolving mainly into capitalistic cautionary tales with overt morals meant to guide our youth toward a socially accepted line of thinking. But that’s not what they were always about. Fairy tales began as oral entertainment benefitting adults, their lurid magic often aimed at critiquing the powerful and finding absurd amusement in the helplessness of the majority.

Director Matteo Garrone returns to these early principles with his moody, atmospheric film based on the work of 16th Century Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basil. The yarns he spins are about narcissistic royals, unwise subjects, dark magic, and human brutality.

His braid of stories possesses a particularly dark and dreamy nature: Salma Hayak wants to have a baby; Vincent Cassel wants to bed a mysterious woman; Toby Jones wants to spend some alone-time with a giant flea.


Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, David Cronenberg’s regular collaborator, brings that elegant chill to certain frames, rarely but effectively punctuated with scenes boasting an especially flamboyant and lush look. The imagery meshes with another brilliant Alexandre Desplat score, aurally and visually supporting Garrone’s absurdist rethinking of the classic fairy tale structure.

Garrone’s cast is uniformly solid. Hayek embraces the haughty nature of her queen, but she allows just enough sympathy to creep into the characterization to create the necessary heartache as her story climaxes. John C. Reilly’s touching tenderness in a small role as a supportive spouse and king is especially wonderful.

Christian and Jonah Lees beguile as magical siblings, Franco Pistoni cuts a wondrously dark image as the film’s necromancer, and Cassel is characteristically excellent.

The real surprises in the film lie in Jones’s tale, though, which begins as something especially weird, then unravels into the darkest and most savage of the stories.

Certain moments lumber along, making the film feel longer than it is. Tale of Tales also comes up mildly lacking when compared to Garrone’s blisteringly brilliant Gomorrah. But the filmmaker deserves credit for bringing a delightful bit of madness, in character and filmmaking, back to the fairy tale.