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Yes, wow.. Dogtooth (Greek translation Kynodontas) is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' second offering and has to its name eight awards and two nominations, among them the prestigious Prix Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Certainly this is one movie undoubtedly worthy of prestigious awards, even if it is unlikely to achieve much commercial success, due to its bizarre and unsettling subject matter. I believe some people may watch this movie and be nothing more than disgusted, but for me personally, I have never seen a film that had such a colossal lasting effect on me; as a week later I'm still mulling over what I've seen, picking up on new meanings and social commentaries evident, and the end result leaves me attaching the clichéd "must see" tag to this remarkable film.
Dogtooth tells the story of a Greek family consisting of three "children" (though these kids appear to be roughly in their twenties) and their parents, who live in what is almost an alternate universe of weirdness, being confined to their gated house all their lives and having no knowledge of the outside world, apart from the distorted view of it being taught to them by their uber-controlling and paranoid parents. This extends from the mundane, as they are taught a garbled vocabulary (for example the female genitals are called "keyboard" and zombies are little yellow flowers) to the extreme, as they are taught to fear the outside world, and have a shocking lack of, or distorted, knowledge concerning sex and normal social constructs. There's a multitude of other strange nuances in this family, and the odd and painfully logical conclusions that this twisted view sometimes leads to is amusing, and you find yourself laughing and disturbed simultaneously. The innocence of the "children" are what allow them to be referred to as such, despite their age and in some cases the emergence of sexual urges, as their parents are determined to keep them in this isolated psychological state. To satisfy the sexual curiosity of the boy (notably the father doesn't seem to acknowledge the possible sexual needs of the girls apart from to serve men) the father invites a deadpan and impassive security girl from his work-place to come to the house to have sex with his son for money, and it is perhaps this introduction of someone from the outside world into the family that triggers a slow but definite path to disorder, and an unravelling of sorts of the father's "perfect" and non-questioning family.
The dialogue, editing and camera shots are delivered in a detached and unemotional manner, with almost robotic, monosyllabic conversations, sex scenes that are devoid of passion , sudden and unexpected violence, and many still shots and wide shots giving an awkward feeling that you've stumbled across someone's home videos and should really turn it off. Except that you can't of course, as this normalcy of surrealism creates an impending sense of doom, and a slow sense of dread as you begin to understand the systematic lies and realise what’s going on. It's these contradictions that abound that draw you in further, like a father who would seem to fit into the role of evil antagonist, who instead is presented as a loving but misguided man who only wants to protect his family. It challenges social taboos and presents them as things that are commonplace and normal, in the absence of any societal influence. It also seems to be a metaphor for the danger of absolute power or control, and there's a side story concerning a dog being trained professionally that seems to be a metaphor within another to emphasise this critical theme of control.
Without doubt, many may disagree with me on some of the above interpretations, but the wonderful thing about this movie is that there is so much going on, and yet so much left unexplained, that a myriad of themes and ideas are there to be unearthed, as each individual will, I guess, take his own meanings and feelings from it. More than provocative, and brimming with superlatives, this one (for better or worse) will stay with you long after the credits have rolled..
- Eadaoin Browne