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ROME — Italy’s Rai Com has scored a slew of sales on director Matteo Garrone’s revenge drama “Dogman” ahead of its Cannes competition world premiere.

Dubbed an “urban Western,” Garrone’s return to smaller-scale Italian-language filmmaking after his English-language fantasy “Tale of Tales,” is inspired by a homicide committed by a coked-out dog groomer during the late 1980s in the gangland outside Rome (see poster).

The case, involving hours of torture in a dog cage, is considered among the most gruesome in Italian postwar history, a subject matter considered somewhat similar to his naturalistic 2008 Neapolitan mob pic “Gomorrah.”

Garrone’s hotly anticipated gritty drama has been snapped up by Alamode (Germany and Austria), M2  (Poland), Karma Films (Spain), Midas Filmes (Portugal), Feelgood Entertainment (Greece), A-One (Russia) and Mcf Megacom Film (former Yugoslavia). Further distributors are Cineart (Benelux), Feelgood Entertainment (Greece), and Time-in-Portrait Entertainment (China).

Buyers for these companies saw a “Dogman” promo at the European Film Market in Berlin, not the completed film, said Rai Com Head of International Distribution David Bogi.

Garrone’s own Archimede Films produced “Dogman” with financing from Rai Cinema and Le Pacte, which will distribute in France. The producers are Garrone and Le Pacte chief Jean Labadie. HanWay, the company founded by British producer Jeremy Thomas, has U.K. rights while Rai Cinema’s 01 Distribution will release it in Italy.

In his director’s statement, Garrone underlined that “Dogman” is inspired by the brutal homicide committed by the dog groomer “but does not intend in any way to reconstruct the facts in the way in which it is said that they took place.” 

Garrone started working on the screenplay twelve years ago. During this time “I picked it up again many times, trying to adapt it to the changes in my own life,” he said.

In the statement Garrone added that a year ago he met Italian actor Marcello Fonte who “with his humanity made it clear to me how I could tackle such violent and dark material.” 

Fonte plays the small and gentle dog groomer, named Marcello, who becomes involved in a dangerous “relationship of intimidation” with a former violent boxer named Simone, played by Edoardo Pesce (“Pure Hearts”) who bullies the entire neighborhood. In an effort to reaffirm his dignity, Marcello exacts an unexpected act of vengeance, according to promotional materials.