“What the fuck are you thinking?” a police chief asks dog groomer Marcello (a cartoonishly wide-eyed Marcello Fonte) about halfway through Dogman. He asks this question after Marcello has allowed the brutish, coke-fueled Simon (Edoardo Pesce) access into his business afterhours in order to rob an adjacent jewelry shop — though the question posed is broadly applicable to any situation in which he puts up with the violent antics of his “friend,” where the absurd lengths gone to protect him become tiring rather quickly. And this is director Matteo Garrone’s central goal here: to demonstrate the submissiveness of humans burdened by fascism and their willingness to protect their subjugators, taking this idea to its most absurd conclusion.
However, once you remove the political allegory from the center of the film, there’s nothing left here. Garrone’s gambit proves effective for roughly 20 minutes of a nearly two-hour film, in which viewers are constantly subjected to watching a spineless man do mental gymnastics in order to defend abhorrent behavior. The grueling nature of this relationship dynamic is only worsened by Garrone’s often garish visual style, which tends to favor needlessly long takes that are more aggravating than technically impressive. (The most notable example of this being when a frozen dog is resuscitated, a weirdly toxic mix of realistic technique and absurdist comedy that’s too obnoxiously gross to be funny or heartwarming.) There’s rarely a choice made that isn’t displeasing in some regard, making Dogman torturous to endure until the end — when viewers are rewarded with Marcello being fully ostracized because of his actions. It’s a fitting punishment for the crime of being a total chump.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 4.