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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Marcello Fonte's Mesmerizing Transformations

Marcello Fonte in a scene from “Aspromonte: La terra degli ultimi”
A gifted actor, Marcello Fonte has made a career out of effortlessly transforming himself into every character he plays.

Born in Melito di Porto Salvo at the southern tip of Calabria, Fonte learned his craft on the fly while working a variety of jobs, including fruit vendor, butcher and barber. During those years of balancing day jobs with small parts, he landed roles in Alice Rohrwacher’s “Corpo celeste” (Heavenly Body) and Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.”

In 2015, Fonte stepped behind the camera to co-direct as well as act in “Asino volo” (Donkey Flies), a coming-of-age story about Maurizio, a headstrong 7-year-old who has to fight to realize his dream of playing the snare drum in the town band. He does so with the counsel and support of a wise donkey and in the face of resistance from his mother, who views music as a luxury the family can’t afford. The film made its North American premiere at Canada’s Junior Italian Contemporary Film Festival in 2016. It isn’t available stateside, but the film’s website,, features videos of traditional celebrations in southern Italy as well as pictures that children can download and color.

Fonte in a scene from "Dogman"
Fonte’s breakout role came in Matteo Garrone’s 2018 thriller “Dogman,” which tracks the downward spiral of Fonte as Marcello, a single father who owns a small dog grooming business in a poor suburb. A timid, isolated man, Marcello gets mixed up with the wrong crowd while trying to make extra money selling drugs. His close relationship with his daughter and his passion for harboring animals are jeopardized when hoodlums begin taking advantage of his kind nature. The constant torment at the hands of an unstable, violent neighborhood bully, magnificently played by Edoardo Pesce, soon becomes unbearable, and Marcello loses everything. After serving time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, he finally reaches the breaking point and does what no one ever thought he was capable of doing. This suspenseful modern masterpiece offers an unblinking view of the emotional damage wrought by bullying as seen through the fear and desperation of the victim. 

Edoardo Pesce and Fonte in a scene from "Dogman"
Both actors give harrowing performances — Fonte as a meek loner and Pesce a brutal antagonist who drives his victim over the edge. The film premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where Fonte took home the prize for best actor.

Fonte recently portrayed Ciccio Italia, the village poet, in Mimmo Calopresti’s “Aspromonte: La terra degli ultimi” (Aspromonte: Land of the Forgotten). Adapted from Pietro Ciriaco’s book “Via dall’Aspromonte” (Away from Aspromonte) the story brings to light the catastrophic consequences of southern Italy’s socioeconomic woes during the 1950s. The film made its Italian theatrical premiere in November. I was fortunate to be in Rome at the time and attended a screening at Cinema Intrastevere, where the director and actors were present. 

I spoke with Fonte about this very Calabrian story and the tragic chapter in the region’s history the film captures. He acknowledged that the Calabria we see in the film is the “old country” that so many residents fled when they came to America. He had a special message for these immigrants. Listen below..

“Aspromonte: La terra degli ultimi” was scheduled to be shown at the Italian Film Festival USA, with Calopresti and Fonte presenting it in several cities. Due to the coronavirus quarantine, however, the events were canceled. We will keep you posted regarding upcoming screenings of the film.

In the meantime, check out Fonte’s award-winning performance in “Dogman,” which is available to stream on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu and Hulu. His latest role to arrive on American shores is the part of the Sicilian grandfather, Domenico Tempesta, in the HBO series, "I Know This Much Is True." Click here to watch the trailer. The episode is available on VOD if you are a subscriber. And follow Fonte on Instagram (@fontemarcello), where he often shares images and videos of his life in Calabria.

- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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