DOGTOOTH (and other mysteries)
Enter a world where a “sea” is a leather sofa, a “zombie” is a little flower and a “cat” is one of the most ferocious animals on the planet. This is the world of, DOGTOOTH (KYNDOTOS, 2009; Giorgios Lanthimos), a satire set in rural Greece that explores the issues of control and censorship through the voyeuristic tale revolving around a family whose patriarch refuses them entry into the outside world.
Three children, a mother and a father co-exist in a world created by their father. Every day they listen to the daily tape recording to learn the latest vocabulary. Only one character has a name, a security guard named, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), brought into the house by the father to introduce his only son to sex. But no one, except the father is allowed to see life beyond the compound. Even Christina must subject herself to be blindfolded as she enters and leaves to meet her contracted lover.
Everything in these children’s lives is under the watchful eye of their father (Christos Stergioglou). Or so he thinks. By inventing a fourth, disobedient, sibling, who was cast out into the real world (and later mauled to death by a house cat) he holds the strings of his children’s lives, putting them through ridiculous contests for points that translate into affection. The children chase after model airplanes, hold their breath underwater and hold their fingers under a hot tap as they fight for affection and enough points for their “Dogtooth” (Canine tooth) to fall out, and thus be able to enter the world.
It is fitting though that Christina be the only named character, along with sex, Christina brings the oldest, most rebellious daughter (Aggelike Papoulia) artifacts, such as ROCKY VHSs, of the real world in exchange for sexual favors.
Daring and controversial, DOGTOOTH, explores the level of manipulation possible (imagined in my mind) as found on mormon compounds or something of similar nature. It also explores the power of language and its ability to be contrived for personal use. Even the camera acts as a device of control, often only showing the legs or feet of characters as if to say, “you can see this far, but don’t think even you can see the real picture.” Most shots with Christina are shot in long shot, with an objective point of view, but when the camera turns back on the family, we are usually subjugated to obstructed views as if the director wants to remind you of your outsider status.
Although seemingly a portrait of a modern day family, the pace of the film is rather Hitchockian. Every moment feels as if you are going to learn more about the creation of this familial cult but when important information is conveyed by either dialogue or action, the viewer is distracted with bizarre shot locations or montages of the children playing.
Nominated for an Oscar, DOGTOOTH was my favorite film of 2010. Its mix of surrealism, voyeuristic tone and tension helped to lift the film out of the absurdist surrealism of lesser independent features, and presents Giorgios Lanthimos, Bigas Luna, a Spanish surrealist who takes after Dali and whose 1992 film, JAMÓN JAMÓN, explored the same familial tension with a surrealist twist.