Dogman is perfect. It’s a subtle and incisive portrait of a submissive man, who seeks to affirm himself and have the respect of others. Dogman is based on the true story of Pietro De Negri, also known as Er Canaro della Magliana. De Negri, a drug addict and low-level criminal, was considered kind and harmless. He loved his daughter and dogs. Bullied by former boxer Giancarlo Ricci, De Negri traps him in his shop and kills him. De Negri told them Police that he tortured Ricci before he killed him, though, from the autopsy, it seems that the torture was performed after the death of Ricci. Matteo Garrone’s Dogman steers away from torture and any indulgence in violence.
The protagonist of Dogman, Marcello, is meek and servile. He has a dog-grooming business, loves his daughter, and eats and plays football with his friends from the estate. He also deals cocaine and feeds the drug addiction of Simone, a violent bully. Fed up with Simone’s violence, Marcello’s friends decide to hire someone to kill him. They fail. Marcello helps Simone and he’s shunned by his friends. He is no longer one of them. Marcello goes to prison to protect the bully thinking that his submissive loyalty might pay off. It doesn’t.
Marcello is weak and demure, but also loving and trusting. The story and its characters emerge from the small details scattered throughout the film. Garrone’s direct style eschews any romanticisation of poverty, violence, or even love. It never indulges in dramatic shots to impress the audience. Far from the aestheticising mania of much contemporary film-making (Yorgos Lanthimos, Steve McQueen, Pawel Pawlikovsky to name the worst offenders), Dogman has no superfluous shots. Garrone’s film-making feels neo-expressionist. He captures what is underneath: the chagrin of the characters, the social desolation, and the violence. The most striking scene is when Marcello carries the dead body of Simone as the sacrificial lamb killed to be readmitted to his circle of friends. He looks up with devastating innocence. No one’s there.