Details: (R18+), 94 mins, Greece,
Synopsis: Terrified that their children will become contaminated by the outside world, a desperate husband and wife ban their offspring from leaving their isolated country estate. The parents feed their adult children false meanings for words, allow them only to watch home movies and frighten them into compliance with tales of their disobedient older brother. But when the first seeds of rebellion are sown, there is no stopping the revolution.
A bizarre and fascinating exercise in film craft.
A precise, disturbing and, frankly, confusing drama (or, for some, pitch-black comedy), Yorgos Lanthimos’ film is undercooked narrative-wise but bold and brazen in every other sense.
Dogtooth examines themes of control, abuse, imagination and manipulation within a crisply-drawn suburban setting. Expertly labelled by one wag as “Leave It To Beaver, directed by Lars Von Trier,” Lanthimos takes the very recognisable world of family-oriented, middle class suburbia and creates a walled inner-space of twisted language, sexual confusion and unfounded fear.
Familiarities such as television, pets, planes and parties are redefined as tools by which a seemingly normal father (Christos Stergioglou), aided by his willing wife (Michele Valley), create trepidation and uncertainty in their maturing children with regard to the world that they have never seen beyond the family compound’s huge walls. The son (Hristos Passalis) rigidly adheres to his father’s worldview; the boy is rewarded with weekly visits from Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a woman paid to relieve his sexual urges. The daughters, however, are growing inquisitive. The youngest (Mary Tsoni) fixates her blossoming sexual curiosity on Christina; the eldest (Aggeliki Papoulia) finds release in VHS copies of ‘80s films that Christina sneaks into the house for her.
All of this overstates the threadbare plotting in the script by Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou. Dogtooth (so named for the molar that must fall out before the children are released from the home) is a determinedly hollow film, reflecting the falseness of the constructed world. The graphic but cold sex acts and matter-of-fact violence seems to happen just as everyday adjuncts to the world but it leaves little impact on the viewer (though the fate of a stray cat will be particularly harrowing to some).
Dogtooth is most fascinating as an exercise in film craft; in the use of the medium to portray the confusion and disorientation that the characters experience. Lanthimos’ vision tweaks the most mundane of images, making the logical appear illogical; the everyday becomes unusual in every way. If his characters emerge as little more than tools in his cinematic exercise, it reflects the very nature of the world in which they live.
The film’s Un Certain Regard honours at the 2010 Cannes film Festival and its Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination suggests that influential cinephiles reacted to Lanthimos’ skewed vision in much the same way as the confined children at the heart of the story: through the inquisitive, excited eye of someone catching a glimpse of a new worldview for the first time.
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