Winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year, Greek writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth is an extraordinary film; weird and provocative, whimsical and titillating, like Big Brother re-imagined by David Lynch.

A businessman (Christos Stergioglou) and his wife (Michelle Valley) have convinced themselves that the best way to rear their children is to completely isolate them from the world. He goes to work in a factory every day, but his wife remains in their remote house, surrounded by a high fence, with their two unnamed teenage daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) and their twenty-something son (Hristos Passalis).

The children live simple lives. They are only taught what their parents choose to reveal to them about the world, and this is very little. The intentionally misleading cassette tapes, recorded by their parents, tell them that ‘ocean’ is another name for a chair and a zombie is a yellow flower. Every once in a while, the father brings home a female security guard, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) to sleep with his son, sex being considered just another bodily function.

The story unfolds in a series of disjointed vignettes, each of which build towards a picture of intimate madness. The children cower in terror of airplanes, which they believe to be about the same size as birds. They are terrified of what their father call’s “man’s mortal enemy”, a cat. The children are starved of stimulation, imprisoned in the blank white house and square green garden. Their lives are governed by rules and procedures, but they have no moral tuition at all. They invent elaborate games in which they inhale anaesthetics, and slash at each other with knives when the fun turns sour. They build themselves into crescendos of hysterics over trivial disturbances to their routine. Later, Christina smuggles in a VHS copy of Rocky, which one of the girls watches. The mere suggestion of a world outside the fence is enough to upset the equilibrium of the household and the father must go to even more extraordinary lengths to maintain his hold.

These snippets are arranged in a way that suggests that these lives are being lived in a constant cycle of dysfunction and boredom which is slowly eroding the foundations of the parent’s experiment. The imprisonment and abuse of the children recalls the horrors of the Fred and Rosemary West case, or the more recent atrocities perpetrated by the Austrian Josef Fritzel, but Dogtooth is intended as an allegory for the wider society that breeds monsters, rather than a story about the monsters themselves. The film’s greatest success is that we accept the twisted premise completely. The film poses a multitude of questions, which the audience will instinctively try to figure out, but this process of connection doesn’t overwhelm the story. In fact, Lanthimos doesn’t seem to care if his viewers reach any conclusions at all. Nothing is explained, nothing is determined. Dogtooth stands alone, regardless.

The denial of identity is underlined by the immobile camera that rarely shows the characters in their entirety, mirroring their isolation and their distorted view of the world. The deadpan dialogue, some of which is nervously funny, collapses at times into a babble of nonsense when the children reach the limit of their curtailed vocabulary.

Odd, brutal and troubling, Dogtooth will not suit all tastes but the extraordinary performances from the small cast and the eerie, otherworldly atmosphere make for an experience like nothing else currently in cinemas.

1 comment:

Sara Ramirez said...

Beautifully written.