Dogtooth

Dogtooth

****1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Grant

Here’s the best advice I can give regarding Dogtooth – don’t read this review. Note the star rating above and simply go and see it, for if ever there was a film that is best experienced without knowing a single detail, this unforgettable oddity from Greece is the one. But for those whose curiosity cannot be constrained, by all means read on.

A study of human conditioning in extremis, Dogtooth is set almost entirely within the confines of a stately home just outside the city limits. There, walled off by impressive shrubbery and a single gate, live three unnamed siblings and their parents. Though the brother (Christos Passalis) and his two sisters (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) are all within a stone’s throw of 20, there’s a childlike innocence to them, and it’s no wonder, for not once in their lives have they ever set foot beyond their property line.

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With the exception of a telephone hidden away within a cupboard in the parents' bedroom, there’s no access to the outside world. The kids seem fairly well-educated, though they’ve inexplicably been taught some odd vocabulary substitutions by mum and dad, such as ‘keyboard’ for female genitalia, or ‘zombie’ for a small yellow flower found in the garden. They’ve also grown up with a mythology that the only safe way to venture outside of the grounds is by car, for lurking beyond the walls is a vicious monster, known as a cat, that kills instantaneously. And one is only old enough to leave the house when either of their canines have fallen out and grown back. In other words, never.

The father (who manages a factory of some sort) is the sole family member to leave the house on a regular basis, and the only other person the children have ever seen is Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a security guard from the factory who is brought to the house (blindfolded, naturally) on occasion to have sex with the son.

The youngsters spend their days creating silly competitive games, such as inhaling anesthesia to see who will wake up first, or engaging in various obedience exercises orchestrated by their parents. Their reality is solely a product of their parent’s imagination, which includes the belief that Frank Sinatra is their grandfather and that the toy airplanes they find in their garden are those that they see flying overhead.

Lathimos gives us no clue as to why the parents have raised their children under these conditions. There’s no indication that they are part of some religious cult, nor do they seem particularly insane. Is it merely a case of over-protectionism stemming from paranoia, or a radical example of isolationism? That we don’t know their motivation leaves us unsure how to respond to the film, for nearly every scene can be read as either darkly comical or disturbingly tragic. The framing is equally disconcerting, with heads often disappearing off the top of the screen, cut-off just as they are from society. Given the siblings’ circumstances, it’s unsurprising that there are hints of incest, but even beyond the film’s explicit sequences there’s a sexually unsettling tone throughout.

The appearance of two well-known Hollywood blockbusters from the Seventies will be the catalyst for the events in the final act, but Lanthimos isn’t going to let us off easily. The film’s inconclusive ending is perfectly suited to the world it so wonderfully creates.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2010
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Three siblings cut off from society spend their lives trapped in their family’s home.
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Director: Giorgos Lanthimos

Writer: Efthymis Filippou, Giorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou

Year: 2009

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Greece


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