It was a wet and blustery afternoon in Chester on Sunday. Despite the weather, a good crowd made their way to the fantastic Storyhouse in the town centre for a screening of Dogman (2018). Included as part of the Chester International Film Festival screening programme, I was delighted to be invited by the festival curator, Professor Jo Crotty, to introduce the film in such a splendid cinema space.
Directed by Matteo Garrone, Dogman is the story of a man who is a dog groomer by day and a drug dealer by night. Set against the decaying backdrop of a desolate Southern Italian seaside resort, Dogman portrays the brutality of macho hierarchies reimagined as pack mentality. This is a film about men and dogs. Characters bark, bite, and scurry away with their metaphoric tails between their legs.
The setting is so harsh and crumbling, inside and out, that the idea of a dog grooming business succeeding at times seems bizarre. To prop up his income, Marcello deals coke and, in his spare time, attends shows where he preens and prepares poodles for exhibition.
Dogs feature prominently within this film although it is only the main protagonist Marcello, who we see having any kind of meaningful interaction with the canine cast of this film. These relationships between Marcello and the dogs function as metaphors for his relationships with humans. We are early in the film led to understand the degree and extent of Marcello’s compassion through his interactions with the canines. In his moments of care for the smaller dogs, we find the parallels with the relationship between Marcello and his daughter, Alida.
The core relationship of masculine submission and domination is between Marcello and Simone, a violent tough-guy. These scenes replay emotionally and visually Marcello’s attempts to control, cajole and tame the dogs he grooms and cares for.
Some of the most harrowing and disturbing scenes in this film take place away from the sight of other humans but we are made aware at every turn that the dogs, and we the viewers, are watching the scenes of humanity and inhumanity that unfold on-screen. Indeed, the close-up shots that open and close this film ask us to contemplate on the murky boundary where humanity and animality begin and end.
The Chester International Film Festival
09-20 March 2019, at Storyhouse, Chester
Curated by the I4P Director, Prof Jo Crotty, the annual Chester International Film Festival offers a remarkable selection of films that share stories and experiences from around the world. Three of this year’s films will be introduced by EHU academics, Prof Owen Evans (Mug), Prof Claire Parkinson (Dogman) and Dr Andrea Wright (Waru). #CIFF19