This is a Dogman’s World
Gomorrah and Tale of Tales director Matteo Garrone returns with a modern-day fable, set against one of the forsaken towns of coastal Italy. Wendy Ide looks at the architecture of Garrone’s films, and the Dogman’s world.
It is known locally as the 'parco degli abusivi' or Park of Abusers: a blighted seaside resort that was intended to be the Domitian coast's answer to Rimini. Instead, it's a lawless sprawl of cancerous concrete, its buildings long ago stripped of anything of value. Built with complete disregard for the region's zoning laws, the now largely abandoned Villaggio Coppola is a 1960s utopian dream, which had its foundations in corruption and organised crime. The location for Matteo Garrone's latest film, Dogman, in which a weak man who aspires to a decent life is sucked inexorably into crime and violence, could hardly be more appropriate.
Based on a true story, the picture tells of Marcello (Marcello Fonte, superb), the proprietor of a dog grooming parlour in a row of struggling seafront businesses. There's a sense of community in this string of shopfronts, which yawn around a desolate town square like a mouthful of broken teeth. Marcello and his neighbours look out for each other; they are united against a common threat – the local bullying thug, Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce).
Garrone said of the choice of location, “The idea was to find a place that was 'frontier', that would recall a western atmosphere, but where the community is present, and it is important what others think of you.” It's a backdrop that is rich with visual metaphors. The rot of the architecture echoes the moral decay of community that has been left to police itself. The abandoned children's playground is as tragic and desperate as Marcello's fearful, ingratiating smile.
Location has always been a key element in Garrone's storytelling. Take Gomorrah, itself shot in and around the same coastal region, just north of Naples, as Dogman. The housing block in which much of the action takes place is a prison-like chunk of brutalism, overlooked by a network of passageways and the ever-present eye of the mafia.
Meanwhile, Tale Of Tales has its roots in a more mythic, magical time. The location manager scoured Italy for eight months looking for appropriately ancient and mystical settings for this collection of folk tales. The aim, Garrone said at the time, was to find places that looked believable but could almost have been built in the studio. The stories unfold amid moss covered boulders in the Bosco del Sasseto, in Lazio; in the spectacular, almost unearthly rock formations of the Gole dell’Alcantara in Sicily and in various castles around the country.
But of all Garrone's films, it is Dogman which has the most forceful sense of place. It's a clichéd observation but Villaggio Coppola really does feel as integral to the story as one of the characters. Just don't expect the film to boost the local tourism industry.
Matteo Garrone, the master filmmaker behind Gomorrah, returns to the crime thriller genre with the tension filled and relentlessly captivating Dogman.
Marcello is a small and gentle dog groomer who wants two things, to look after his dogs and take his daughter on exotic holidays. But to fund this lifestyle he runs a side business which has more unsavoury clientele and he soon finds himself involved in a dangerous relationship of subjugation with Simone, a former violent boxer who terrorises the entire neighbourhood.
When Simone exploits him too much Marcello must make a crucial and potentially dangerous decision in order to regain his dignity.
Matteo Garrone’s Dogman plays in cinemas from Friday 19 October, and is available to stream online at Curzon Home Cinema.