In 1988, Pietro de Negri — a gentle man affectionately also known as Er Canaro (the dog-keeper) — brutally murdered amateur boxer Giancarlo Ricci in what is now regarded as one of the most gruesome crimes in Italian history (you need google only “Er Canaro” to witness the longevity of his legacy). His prison confession doesn’t quite match up with the coroner’s autopsy of the victim’s body, however. In fact, Er Canaro’s story is riddled with inexplicable gaps.
Matteo Garrone fills them in his 2018 film, Dogman.
Dogman is not the retelling of Er Canaro’s tale, as Garrone was quick and careful to point out to would-be accusers shortly after its release. Rather, it is a timely and poetic imagination of the events leading up to and causing De Negri’s unexpected and violent reaction to a regular neighbourhood threat.
Marcello is a dog-groomer and dog-sitter in a squalid suburb just outside present-day Rome. His life revolves around few simple fulcrums: his twelve year-old daughter and their shared passion for scuba diving; his friends and fellow merchants from surrounding shops in the neighbourhood; the dogs in his care; and his small cocaine-dealing side-business. I suoi giorni sono segnati dagli stessi ritmi e retti dalle stesse presenze quarteriane: i negozianti della piazza, i fornitori della cocaina che vende in piccole quantità e un cliente la presenza massiccia e l’atteggiamento aggressivo del quale minacciano da mesi, se non anni, il quartiere intero. But his daily rhythm is upturned when a difficult, imposing, and aggressive cocaine-addicted client — un cliente esigente — demands that he hand over the keys to his studio to facilitate the robbery of the adjoining gold-pawn-shop through their shared wall. The request throws Marcello’s family, livelihood and moral compass into a state of emergency. Feeling trapped, he acquiesces, but emerges from the encounter forever changed.
No one in Marcello’s surrounding could have predicted or understood the events that follow in this modern tragedy. But viewers can. Such is the power of Garrone’s storytelling and narrative eye. And such is the strength of the performance of the actors in this film’s starring roles (Marcello Fonte, Edoardo Pesce, Alida Baldari Calabria). One of our Meetup members called Dogman the most depressing film he’d ever watched. And it’s true that it can be difficult to process at times. But Garrone is careful to alternate scenes of human ugliness with heartbreaking moments of goodness that enrich the complexity of Marcello’s character. Notable is the film’s frequent use of still-frames — non-invasive snapshots of the necessary introspection that accompanies deeply-embedded inner conflict. As is true of all of Garrone’s films, Dogman is governed by a fundamentally neo-realist agenda: a desire to lay bare exactly as they are the very dregs of misfortune. It is complemented by the rigorous use of Roman dialect and characters whose daily experiences mirror the economic and social reality of life in Italy today. In other words, Dogman could not be set in any other place or any other time and still fulfil its artistic goals.
An emphatic recommended watch.
For more information about Dogman, Matteo Garrone, or to book your private small-group screening at our Italian cultural centre, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you are a fan of contemporary Italian film, ask us about Montreal Italian Week in August and our showings there.