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Simon Read [Film Festival 11.17.09] Greece drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Giorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Giorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

Dogtooth is, in many respects, exactly the kind of film we like here at QuietEarth. It’s dark, inventive, amusing and also pretty ambitious. It concerns one of the weirdest families ever put on screen - a husband and wife who keep their three children confined to the house and high-walled garden of their estate; insisting that the outside world is in chaos, and that they cannot leave until their ‘Dogtooth’ (incisor) has fallen-out and been replaced, something we know will never happen…

The kids ages range from about 16 to 21, although it’s not made clear as the three of them; two girls and one boy, act like young children anyway. The quick tempered patriarch sets them tasks and games to keep them busy, rewarding them with the household currency of fun-stickers. Meanwhile, Mother creates audio-tapes of school lessons in which she gives new and more banal meaning to certain words. The opening scene has the kids gathered around the stereo, listening to false definitions of potentially subversive words such as ‘Motorway’ (“A cool breeze”) or ‘Ocean’ (“The leather chair in the living-room”). This works extremely well in creating a bizarre sense of fun as the children drop unexpected words into conversation, such as when the eldest daughter asks her mother to pass the telephone at dinner, and is promptly handed the salt shaker.

Dogtooth has a pretty intense atmosphere hanging over it, as we the audience are forced to observe the set-up of this incredibly creepy household, and then bare witness to its eventual and inevitable break-down. Giorgos Lanthimos’ direction is nearly perfect in its simplicity, as he forces us to squirm and occasionally laugh-out-loud at how absurd events becomes, but never loses his grip and focus on the story. The only film that comes to mind thinking about Dogtooth is the original ‘Funny Games’ by Michael Haneke, as they both have this intensity and violent streak, but are sort of funny despite it all.

I don’t want to give any more of the story away, but there are stand-out scenes that have stayed with me for days since the screening. When a stray cat wanders into the garden the kids are petrified, having never even seen one before; and the Father takes this opportunity to explain that it’s a terrible monster, and he surreptitiously covers himself with red paint and wanders into the house to announce that he’s killed a huge cat himself. As the airplanes flying over the house start to get the children overexcited, Mother starts to throw toy planes onto the lawn, and as the children find them they look skywards and voice their hope that more planes will fall into the garden. The kids play games among themselves too, the favorite being a test of pain endurance as they run scalding hot water over their hands to see who can last the longest without flinching. The innocent way in which these games are invented and played is so unsettling and disturbing that many in the audience flinched, covered eyes or simply walked out (sissies).

It’s telling that the breakdown in routine is brought about through the introduction of two things; a stranger, and the concept and act of sex. As Father brings home a blind-folded female employee of his factory to service the Son, she brings with her items from the real-world, things as simple as hair gel and glow-in-the-dark headbands, which send the kids world spinning out of orbit. As this shift occurs, the Mother and Father begin to break-down themselves, becoming increasingly obsessed with hard-core pornography and setting progressively more dangerous tasks for the children, with punishments for failure.

Dogtooth is certainly causing a stir, and I suspect it will join Funny Games as a love-it-or-hate-it cult classic. It’s an uncomfortable experience to be sure, but absolutely worth the price of entry as it’s a completely original and staggeringly well performed, well directed and written piece of cinematic… je'ne se quoi.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

Funny Games (particularly the remake) is a difficult and provocative film. If Dogtooth is in the same league then I'm extremely interested.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

This film disturbed me in so many ways that now i am afraid to recall childhood memories in my mind feeling i did bad guilty wrong things as a child even if i didnt.
Great! i am scared as an adult too.

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