The new Italian film Dogman seems to revel in ambivalence. The central character is Marcello (played by Marcello Fonte), who is a dog groomer. At first glance, Marcello seems sympathetic. He has a way with dogs but also seems vulnerable and a little timid. He is devoted to his daughter.

But he is also a petty drug dealer on the side. One of Marcello’s clients is an imposing thug who coerces Marcello to participate with him in a gradually escalating series of criminal escapades. Much of the tension of the film centers on whether Marcello will decide not to be bullied and coerced any longer. The movie apparently is at least partially based on actual events.

The above summary doesn’t really do justice to the cinematic quality of the film which is quite memorable. The film was Italy’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the recent Academy Awards, and one can see why. The direction by Matteo Garrone, cinematography by Nicolai Bruel and editing by Marco Spoletini are all superb. This is the type of film that lingers in the mind after it has been seen.

And then there is Fonte’s complex, subtle portrayal of the title character. (Fonte won the Best Actor award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival). Other commentators have made mention of Charles Chaplin in relation to Fonte’s performance. Actually, Fonte’s portrayal seems to recall three silent film comic notables – the vulnerability of Chaplin, the stoic face of Buster Keaton, with the talent for getting into precarious situations of Harold Lloyd.

The occasional venture into the realm of the absurd lends Dogman, at times, a Felliniesque atmosphere. In the decision about whether to confront a bully, the movie also has overtones of High Noon. But Marcello is too compromised to be considered a real hero. The last scene of the film lingers on a virtually empty plaza, which after all of the ethical lapses, has an atmosphere that is appropriately bleak.