How ‘Dogman’ Took a Revenge Story and Added a Touch of Buster Keaton

TheWrap Oscar magazine: “The story we took inspiration from was more focused on violence and revenge,” says director Matteo Garrone of his Italian Oscar submission

A version of this story on “Dogman” first appeared in the Foreign Language Issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Marcello Fonte won the best-actor award in Cannes for his performance in “Dogman,” Matteo Garrone’s film about a mild-mannered dog groomer (and part-time drug dealer) who finally gets tired of being bullied by a local gangster.

The film is Italy’s entry in this year’s Oscar foreign-language race, and this is one in a series of interviews TheWrap conducted with directors of the foreign contenders.

You shot the film in the same town where you shot some of “Gomorrah” 10 years ago. Why do you keep going back?
MATTEO GARRONE: I also shot a movie called “The Embalmer” there in 2002. It’s a place that I love. For this movie, I was looking for a place for a sort of modern Western — a village on a kind of frontier, where the community can be very important in the life of the main character. So we used Western references — the place where there are the prostitutes, the place with gambling, the square where they have the final duel.

But at the same time, it’s a place that is metaphorically abstract.

This was inspired by a true story. What appealed to you about the story, and how much did you change it?
The original story was a starting point, but then we developed the character. We liked his sensitivity, his simplicity. He’s very pure, naive — we used Chaplin or Buster Keaton as a reference.

And the main difference was that the story we took inspiration from was more focused on violence and revenge. Our movie is a revenge story, but it’s more than that. So we talked about love, fear, friendship. It was a story that could talk to everybody.

“Dogman” starts out fairly light and even comic. Was it tricky to calibrate the move to a darker and more violent mood?
For me, that’s the most difficult part. I like that I can laugh in a movie, and at the same time I like that I can cry in a movie. And it’s difficult to control the tone. If there is too much of the comic aspect, then the drama can be less strong.

We knew that the first part could be more light and comic, and the second part, where he falls in a sort of hole of his mind, can be darker. And we were lucky, because the weather helped us in this direction. When we were shooting the first part, there was a lot of sun–and when we were shooting the second part, it started to rain and to be cloudy. [Laughs] The place loves me.

By the end of the film, Marcello, your main character, has done what we’ve been wanting him to do all along: He stands up to the bully and makes sure that he won’t be mistreated again. And yet the town doesn’t embrace him for that, and as an audience we feel ambivalent too.
Exactly. At the end, we are talking about two victims. It’s the story of a man who is losing his innocence. He remains trapped in a mechanism of violence, but he’s not violent. It’s about a human being and how he fights in this society to remain himself and to be loved by the people.

To read more of TheWrap’s Foreign Language Issue, click here.

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