In this award-winning Italian drama, Marcello, a mild-mannered dog groomer, is a reluctant accomplice to the local bully — until he’s finally pushed too far.
Marcello Fonte won Best Actor at Cannes for his complex portrayal of the title character. And a long-haired chihuahua whom he rescues in one scene won Cannes’ Palm Dog award.
While there is plenty here for dog lovers (Marcello tends to dogs of all sizes, including a Great Dane and a Puli), it’s hardly a feel-good film. Instead, the dogs help serve as a metaphor for the lopsided relationship between the two main characters.
Like a small dog himself, Marcello is eager to please. If former boxer Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce) wants something, Marcello goes along with it. The violent Simoncino is the terror of their small coastal town, but most of the time, his friend is able to calm him down before too much damage is done.
Marcello’s such a pushover, he even feeds his own dinner to his own dog at home. So how long will it be before he finally stands up to Simoncino?
His good nature (and reluctance to make waves) is shown in the scene where he’s forced into being the getaway driver for his criminal friends while they burgle a nearby house. He is appalled when one of them boasts that, during the robbery, he shoved the absent owner’s yapping dog in the freezer!
Instead of stopping the car then and there, or objecting to what they’ve done, Marcello dutifully drives the burglars back to town, then returns to the scene of the crime and breaks in to rescue the dog. At first, the chihuahua isn’t moving, but then it slowly comes back to life under Marcello’s ministrations.
Marcello’s own problems aren’t solved so easily. It becomes frustrating watching how far he’ll let Simoncino go, even when it jeopardizes his entire livelihood. It’s not a question of if Marcello will snap, but when and how dramatically.
The film ends on a grim, almost absurdist note. You leave the movie thinking of the quiet life he’d have if Simoncino never existed. And the steep price we all pay for what seems like peace.
Rating: 3 out of 4 paws