In a small, run-down Italian village, dog lover and groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) owns a business named Dogman, where he tends to various breeds big and small. Living behind his workspace, he supports his struggling business by discreetly selling cocaine. This side business inevitably lands him in the presence of unsavoury characters, chiefly the much bigger Simone (Edoardo Pesce) who is a constant irritant to the village, prompting Marcello to deceive his friends as to why he associates with Simone at all.
Also playing a part in Marcello’s monetary equation is his young daughter, who he is determined to impress with trips away. Sharing custody with his ex, he obviously wants his daughter to go back home with impressive tales to tell about what Daddy did for her. His ex barely acknowledges his existence when she drops their daughter off, but the reason for this remains an open question. Regardless of what caused the riff in the relationship, director Matteo Garrone makes it clear that Marcello has gotten the rough end of the stick from a custody standpoint.
The decision by Garrone to name Marcello’s store ‘Dogman’ is a clear reference to his character. Much like man’s best friend, Marcello epitomises the ‘too nice for his own good’ type of man who simply wants to please and be liked by everyone in the small village, stating as much during the film.
Far from the most intelligent fellow, and with a near-permanent smile on his face, the meek Marcello doesn’t realise the potential risks that are coupled with dealing cocaine. Not to mention the effect of the drug itself on people like Simone, whose unhinged behaviour becomes increasingly problematic.
Also lost on Marcello is that the longer he deals, the chances of him becoming associated with people similar to Simone increases. The consequence of Marcello’s ignorance is that he is presented with situations that jeopardise what he values most about living in the small community.
Interestingly, three identical long shots of the village are evenly spread throughout the film and each time the area remains unchanged. The identical shots again relate to Marcello’s character who, despite being treated like a dog himself by Simone, never changes his attitude. He bows to nearly every wish of Simone, as not only does he want to keep Simone’s money rolling in, he wants to remain on Simone’s good side given his unpredictable behaviour. Not only this, despite Simone’s treatment of him, Marcello still wants Simone’s respect and to consider him a friend.
Dogman is an incredibly realistic character study that transcends culture and language barriers. It is a study of a man who is too kind for his own safety, a man with a simple wish that proves to be difficult. The intensity picks up for the final act, steadily increasing towards the unpredictable final moments that are incredibly telling without any dialogue. Ultimately, Dogman is unique film about an unfortunate but all-too-common character trait that most viewers can relate to in their own way.