(2009)4Jason BuchananHead scratchers -- as movie lovers we've all encountered them. Sometimes their stubborn refusal to adhere to any type of convention or standard makes them fascinating and worthy of high praise; other times it's just obnoxious. Ostensibly a darkly comic parable illustrating the dangers of parental coddling, director Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth demands undivided attention and extraordinary patience on the part of the viewer -- an uncompromising approach that may prove a bit too much for some given the film's unapologetically opaque, detached nature.
Nothing in Dogtooth comes easy. From the disorienting shot compositions to the bizarre behavior exhibited by the characters and the explicit sexuality, every aspect of the film seems tailor-made to stir a certain sense of uneasiness within the viewer. Some will find it brilliant, others will dismiss it as empty provocation in the guise of arthouse chic.
The plot concerns a factory worker (Christos Stergioglou) and his wife (Michele Valley) who have isolated their three grown children (Christos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, and Mary Tsoni) from the outside world by refusing to let them venture beyond a large fence surrounding the property, feeding them a steady diet of misinformation concerning the outside world and literally treating them like animals. The only outsider permitted into the family home is Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a security guard from the factory who occasionally drops in to have sex with the son. When Christina later bestows one of the sisters a gift in exchange for sexual favors, her actions spark an ominous series of events that threaten to undermine the parents' efforts to shield their children from society, and expose their deceptions for all to see.
Much like the tyrannical parents in his film do to their impressionable children, Lanthimos takes full advantage of his ability to exert absolute control over what he reveals to the viewer and how, frequently employing disorienting compositions to prevent us from connecting with the action occurring just outside of the frame, or carefully presenting small clues about the bizarre reward system that the parents have utilized in order to keep their offspring in line. Likewise, his three young actors display exceptional talent in their abilities to respond to common words and items as if they were things of exotic beauty. It's easy to buy into the fact that they've been reared outside of society as they're racing to recover an airplane that just fell out of the sky (when in fact their mother just threw a toy over the fence) or responding to their first exposure to a Hollywood film, and Dogtooth is at its best when we're seeing how those three sheltered souls interpret and react to the things that the vast majority of us take for granted.
Alternately repellant, hilarious, and perplexing (often within the same scene), Dogtooth raises numerous valid questions regarding the natural impulse of authority figures to err on the side of overcaution, and it does so in a way that really gets under our skin. Perhaps if Lanthimos had approached the topic in a way that was a bit more accessible, the people who would really benefit from the film's cautionary message would actually be more open to receiving it. But accessibility can be overrated, and as it stands Dogtooth is truly one of a kind -- compelling from start to finish, and deliciously surreal.
Some films offer instant gratification; others require a bit of reflection. Dogtooth quite obviously falls into the later category. If you're the type of moviegoer who enjoys pondering the meaning of a movie for days or debating abstract endings with like-minded movie geeks, you'll savor the fact that your head will still be spinning when the final shot in Dogtooth fades to black. For everyone else, there are ten big-budget blockbusters at your multiplex that offer satisfying stories wrapped up in pretty bows and allow your synapses to remain air-conditioned cool for a solid 90 minutes.
Three young people exist in a strange world of their parents' devising in this bizarre drama from writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos. A father and mother (Christos Stergioglou and Michele Valley) live in a large house on the outskirts of town with their three children, whose ages range from mid-teens to early twenties. The children have never been allowed to leave the house (which is surrounded by a tall fence), and their knowledge of the outside world has been strictly controlled by their parents, who have chosen to teach them only what they believe is important and have deliberately confused or misled them in many other areas. The parents quite literally treat their children like animals, and the only contact the youngsters have with people outside their family is Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a woman who works with the father's business and comes by periodically to have sex with the eldest son (Christos Passalis). Christina makes the mistake of bringing a present for the two younger daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni), and explains the custom is that they should give her something in return. This simple act sets off a chain reaction of events that has terrible consequences for everyone involved. Kynodontas (aka Dogtooth) was an official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.