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by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 12, 2019

Italian director Matteo Garrone may be working on a new version of "Pinocchio" at the moment, but his latest release, "Dogman," is a fable of another sort - a human pet who dreams of being a real man, rather than a marionette yearning to become a creature of flesh and blood.

Marcello (Marcello Fonte) owns a dog grooming business, a concern that's not exactly flourishing. To make ends meet, he deals a little coke - a side gig that brings him into contact with all sorts of unsavory characters, including a hulking, impulsive bully named Simone (Edoardo Pesce).

Watching Simone order Marcello around - dragging him along on robberies, ordering him to set up off-the-cuff drug deals, demanding that he betray his friends - one gets a very definite sense of who, in their off friendship, is the top dog. But the depth of their power differential - and the depravity at the root of their twisted bond - takes on entirely new meanings when we see Simone feed Marcello tidbits of cocaine off his fingertips as though they were treats, or drag him by the ear to Simone's dented motorcycle - the dents having been put there by Marcello in a fit of rage - in order to rub his nose in them, all the while giving him a public scolding: "You don't do that!"

Marcello has a cringing, overwhelmed air about him; he's the whipping boy for the whole neighborhood, such that all the shopkeepers Simone irritates and offends end up taking their frustrations out on Marcello. But no matter the abuses he suffers, Marcello remains intensely loyal to Simone, to the point of going to jail rather than giving him up when Simone forces him to collaborate in a burglary that targets one of Marcello's neighbors.

But even for Marcello, there comes a time when enough is enough; his intense loyalty is repaid time and again with contempt and cruelty, until the inevitable moment when Marcello bites back. That in itself isn't a surprise - such stories are a genre unto themselves. What sets this film apart and marks it as a tragedy is how little heroism or inspiration is involved when Marcello finally asserts himself.

Garrone has a taste and a talent for movies that dissect human power structures and social codes around order and disorder; his 2008 film "Gomorrah" remains a standout among mob movies. What he doesn't have is a taste for artificial sweeteners in his films, and "Dogman" is a bitter brew indeed. Who knows how that sensibility will play out in Garrone's upcoming "Pinocchio" update? Best prepare yourself for splinters, just in case.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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