Cannes 2018: Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' is Satisfying Dog Vengeance

Show me a movie with dogs being treated with love and compassion, and it's already a favorite. I admit that I'm a bit biased and therefore I probably love this film more than I should, but then again, it's a great film. Dogman is the latest feature from acclaimed Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone (of Gomorrah, Tale of Tales) and it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film is not as profound as Garrone's past work, but it is as engaging and still satisfying in its own ways, making it a worthy and admirable cinematic story anyway. Dogman is inspired by a true story of a dog groomer from a small town in Italy who fought back against a thug in the Italian drug underworld, and still kept his dignity (for the most part) while at it.

Dogman stars Marcello Fonte as Marcello, a humble, quiet, and lonely father living in a small town on the Italian coast. He loves dogs and works as a dog groomer, and also sells/holds drugs and other contraband as part of the "underground" scene in the town. But this is mostly because that's part of life there, everyone supports each other. The town is tormented by a thug named Simone, played by Edoardo Pesce, who gets his way by beating people up. No one messes with him. Everyone tries to maintain a passive friendship as they don't want to incur the wrath of his fists. But one day he goes too far and decides to rob a local shop, putting Marcello's life and livelihood at risk. So Marcello finally pushes back. It becomes a cathartic story of vengeance against a bully, and you know what, I really needed to see this. Hell yes, Marcello, I am with you.

While the story is essentially nothing more than an Italian tale of revenge, it's the filmmaking that elevates this. Garrone is so damn talented and knows how to pull the audience into the gritty, decaying world of this Italian town. We get lost in his cinematography and the locations, and he doesn't need to overdo it in this simple elegance, we can easily get into it and recognize what's going on locally. And then Garrone allows us to empathize with and understand Marcello, even though he may indeed be a drug dealer and coke fiend, at least he loves dogs and loves his daughter and just wants to live a simple life keeping the people around him happy. Why is that so bad? (It's not.) More than anything, Dogman is a character study about the "dog man" and this moment in his life, and it's a superb one at that. Sometimes these are the stories we need to tell.

Of course, all of the dogs in the film are good dogs the best. He interacts with a lot of them, with a few scenes throughout of them being groomed in his shop, and other scenes where he interacts with local dogs around town. Garrone has great respect for Marcello's love for these furry friends, and allows the film to revel in this love. So many dog films never spend enough time showing that, and never give us a chance to believe that this character genuinely loves these animals. But that's not a concern here. As a dog lover, it had me. As someone who has been bullied, it had me. As a cinephile, it had me. This may not be Garrone's most profound film, but that doesn't matter, it's still an excellent, gritty character study from this Italian master.

Alex's Cannes 2018 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing