Italian cinema is one of my biggest holes as a critic. When it comes to seeing movies from across the globe, I’ve seen plenty of movies from Japan (both of the animated variety and not), some movies from Korea and Taiwan, and a healthy amount of German, French, and Spanish movies. Italian not so much. My awareness of Italian cinema begins and ends with Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
With that in mind, I didn’t know what to expect from director Matteo Garrone’s Dogman. I had no idea what the film would be like stylistically, all I had were some specific notes from the director. The central idea of the film was to convey not only a loss of innocence for its main character but for Italy itself. And I can see what Garrone is talking about. Those themes come across incredibly well. I just wish I had a more engaging movie to watch.
Director: Matteo Garrone
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Dogman is the story of Marcello, a meek and mild-mannered veterinarian in an Italian coastal village. His life is pretty great. He loves his job, he frequently gets to spend time with his daughter, and he’s a valued membered of his community with the other store owners around him valuing him as a friend. He also deals coke, and that’s how Marcello becomes friends with a former boxer named Simone, who acts like a punk, commits crimes, and frequently uses Marcello to his own means. Marcello continuously tries to justify his friendship to Simone, but it becomes harder and harder to do so as Marcello slowly begins to lose everything around him.
What stands out most about Dogman is its sense of starkness. There are no bright colors or interesting sets on display here. The entire movie is very cut and dry, showing just how brutal the crimes and drugs on display can be. When violence happens, it can get pretty nasty, though there’s no heavy gore on display. There’s never a large score that comes sweeping in when someone throws a punch. The movie just wants to tell its story and after being inundated with Hollywood spectacle for years, it’s refreshing to see a movie that’s shot as simply as Dogman.
Speaking of cinematography, the majority of shots are all long takes, allowing us to really get a feel of who Marcello is and we’re able to see the actors get a chance to breathe and emote. There are no rapid fire quick cuts in order to increase the pace of the movie. It’s slow, deliberate, and a single shot could last upwards of a minute or even two. My favorite scene in the entire movie is one such scene, where Marcello confronts Simone and tries to finally put an end to his abuse once and for all. Even the last shot of the movie, in all of its dreariness and bleakness, shows just how empty all of Marcello’s struggles were. As a “good” man who believes he has done good in the world, the last shot sends home the message that no one really cares if he did good or not. He’s just alone in a world that he doesn’t belong in anymore.
But for as captivating as its cinematography is and for how good the actors are, the script struggles to fully relate that. Dialogue is simple, so actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, most of the action is ho-hum at best. And no, I’m not talking about action in the sense of a fight scene but anything that differs from watching two men talk to each other back and forth. Most of the scenes are static without anything to make them stand out, making them blend in with each other. The last couple of scenes are when the movie truly comes alive, but that’s only because something happens that made me take notice.
This is the kind of movie that I would see being a successful stage play. Characters talk about their issues more than act on them, but Dogman is more interested in telling instead of showing. Once it starts to show us how these themes and ideas fit into the greater picture, the movie ends. And with a movie that runs nearly two hours, there was a lot of waiting for something to actually happen instead of watching Marcello get walked on by Simone for 90 minutes.
Dogman is the perfect example of a movie you want to like but is crippled by one major flaw. I was ready to engage with it and analyze the solemnity of it all, but I just walked out of it with a sense of disappointment. The elements are there. The acting by Marcello and Simone, played by Marcello Fonte and Edoardo Pesce respectively, are great. Garrone’s directing is spot on. I just wish that I didn’t have to wait so long watching two people talk to actually get to the thematic meat of it all.