The magic of Matteo Garrone's latest 'Dogman' lies in the Italian filmmaker's fantastical vision -- a creativity simply like no other in narrative cinema. There is something about how this Cannes Competition title was shot, almost surrealistic and old timey, and how the story has been told without compromise that left me breathless.
'Dogman' is a true collaboration between two exceptional individuals, Garrone as its director of course and his leading man Marcello Fonte, whom the filmmaker allows to steal the show without any ego or possessiveness to the story he wrote (along with Massimo Gaudioso and Ugo Chiti). In fact, Fonte manages to be even more mesmerizing than the dogs in 'Dogman' and those four legged creatures are plentiful and quite spellbinding themselves. Some would say that by the final image of 'Dogman' Fonte has become one of them, an ownerless dog who just lost his master.
The premise of 'Dogman' is simple enough: How much will Marcello accept from the town bully Simone (played by Eduardo Pesce who looks kind and handsome in real life) before he says "enough!" We are all a Marcello to someone's Simoncino in this life, maybe not to that extent but in a smaller way, and so the inner struggle of the gentle Dogman hits very close to home. Garrone weaves his story like a dark fairy tale, a look and feel we've become accustomed to from the filmmaker and yet never quite get used to, keeping us on the edge of our seat. He channels the doom and gloom of the original fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm in both how the film is shot and its message and comes out brilliantly with its epic ending.
I'll admit that Garrone has always been an idol of mine. A born artist, his first film in my own personal memory goes back to 2002 with 'The Embalmer', which premiered in Cannes. Then came 'Gomorrah', the film not the series based on the writing of Roberto Saviano, 'Reality' and 'Tale of Tales', but he also wore the producer's hat on 'Mid-August Lunch' -- all favorites of mine, for different reasons, during varying times in my own life. With 'Dogman' which seems to be his passion project, one he kept on the back burner for ten years, Garrone has stepped onto the winning podium of a special class of filmmakers, those who tell human stories but aren't afraid to delve deeper into our subconscious. In fact, of all the films I watched in Cannes, I walked out of 'Dogman' with the most questions but also continue carrying it with me the longest.
'Dogman' is a film for everyone because it explains our everything and it unravels us, for better or for worse. And now that Marcello Fonte has won the top prize in Cannes for his performance, a wide distribution of 'Dogman' should be guaranteed.
I caught up with Garrone on a finally sunny day during this otherwise chilly and damp Festival de Cannes and I was surprised by how down to earth he is as a man and how much he gives of himself in his interviews. For this particular piece, I wanted to know about his leading man, the Best Performance by a Male Actor winner at this year's Festival de Cannes, how they initially connected, and paying homage to Buster Keaton.
I know this is your passion project and it’s been brewing for a long time. And then you found Marcello and that meeting made it all make sense… Can you talk a bit about that connection?
Matteo Garrone: Did he tell you about we met? Marcello lives in a place, a social center where he is a guardian. In this place they usually work on rehearsals for theater performances and there was a group of ex-prisoners who were rehearsing for a play and he was always watching this group, because he lives there. And one day, just a couple of days before my casting group went to meet this theater group, one of the guys went to the bathroom and died. One of the prisoners. Marcello was there, always watching the rehearsals so he took the place of the man in the group. So when the casting went to meet the group, there was also Marcello inside the group. So this is a very tragic coincidence but that’s how I saw him.
He’s from the south of Italy, he comes from a very poor family of farmers in the very very south of Italy, in Calabria and then he came to Rome… I want to show you a picture which for me is really beautiful. He came to Rome when he was 18 and started to do many different jobs and at 18 he arrived on the set of ‘Gangs of New York’ by Martin Scorsese. This picture is amazing… [shows me the photo of Marcello with De Caprio from his phone]. Divine. And the funny story is who took this picture, it was Daniel Day Lewis -- he didn’t know who he was, so Marcello asked him to take the photo with De Caprio. I think he’s the only one who asked Daniel Day Lewis to take a picture of someone else.
What did Marcello Fonte take to this project that you found so necessary?
Garrone: I think when Marcello arrived in this project he brought his humanity, also his natural comedic approach and for me he was a sort of new Buster Keaton in a way. And the idea to make also an homage through this movie to the silent movies to the great Keaton or Chaplin — especially in the first part when he plays with the dogs and he has such a tender approach with the daughter, he is trying to be loved by the community.
And how did Marcello the actor reinforce the character of Marcello the character?
Garrone: He was very important because he brought the light in this story. Then also his suffering. In the second part when he becomes involved in this fatal relationship with this guy that brings him inside the mechanism of violence and also brings him in a solitude, from everyone. From the community. The relationship between him and the community in this story is very important. That’s why we chose a village that resembles a bit a sort of Western movie, a land that is not really clear -- a frontier land.
And so it’s also really important the relationship he has with the guys of the village which is also a metaphor for our society. It’s very important how they see Marcello during the story and how they change in their point of view towards him and how he looks for a redemption. He wants to affirm, especially his dignity as a human being. That’s why it’s not correct to talk about revenge, because it’s not a revenge movie but he is looking for his justice. Just his approach is very naif…
He just wants to hear "sorry"…