Certainly one of the more surprising moments of the 2010 Academy Award nominations had to be the inclusion of the Greek oddity "Dogtooth" among the Best Foreign Film nominees. This psychological freak show seems designed to polarize audiences with its controversial presentation of an isolated family as a horror construct. The film, with relatively no political or social context, is likely to be interpreted in many ways by viewers searching for a grand significance to the proceedings. Having seen the film twice now, however, I'm not sure that I can really establish the filmmaker's true intentions with any veracity. So I won't try. Somewhere between perverse satire, bent domestic drama, and disturbing psychological horror lies the film "Dogtooth"--a challenging and unrepentantly bleak, yet undeniably gripping and fascinating, example of experimental cinema.
"Dogtooth" depicts the unorthodox life of one family. The three teenage children have been raised in a controlled environment in which they've seemingly never left the family's secluded estate. Subjected to the teaching of their parents, they know nothing of the real dangers or inherent freedoms available in the outside world. As their story unfolds, in horrifying daily detail, the complete destruction of their psyches, intelligence, and individuality at the hands of their parents is absolutely repellant. This truly is one of the more disturbing depictions of psychological torture (even if the kids don't know it!) that has ever been captured on film. Not graphically violent, but emotionally disconcerting, this film will insinuate itself into your mind--and it's absolutely unsettling. One girl, in particular, starts to act out in increasingly violent ways and, as much as we do want to protect them, kids will grow up to experience life in ways we might not have intended.
To be sure, I love to be surprised by film--the more offbeat or skewed the better. In describing a movie's narrative for others, I try to only paint a picture in broad strokes and not spoil the mysteries yet to unfold. That's why I've been purposefully vague in my description (although, there is some controversial sexual content which might offend certain viewers). With "Dogtooth," however, I might make a disclaimer. This will not be a film for everyone--those that dislike "Dogtooth" will invariably hate it with every fiber of their being! Those that like "Dogtooth," however, will be caught up in a story unlike any other. I was unable to pull my eyes away from this film. Like a disturbing nightmare, my curiosity kept me glued to the every frame of this movie. It is well acted and well made--but this is just a caution to more sensitive viewers. "Dogtooth" disturbed and confounded me, in almost every way, but I was unable to tear myself away from its sick allure. KGHarris, 1/11.
on March 17, 2011
What if you could be the master of your own universe, able to make everything to your own specifications and liking? And what if, in that universe, you could have absolute control over your subjects, so that, not only would they have to do what you told them to, but you could even go so far as to shape the very way they look at the world?
The unnamed middle-aged protagonist (Christos Stergioglou) of "Dogtooth" has created just such a kingdom for himself and his wife (Michelle Valley), tucked away in a rural area of Greece, where the two of them have raised their children - a boy (Christos Passalis) and two girls (Aggelika Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) who are all now in their late teens - in such complete isolation that the kids have virtually no knowledge of the world that lies beyond the fenced-in little compound in which they live. They know only that it is a dangerous and scary place and that none of them will be able to venture out into it until their dogtooth falls out - which is to say never. They are so misinformed as to how the real world actually works that they think planes are just tiny objects moving through the air, and that if one of those tiny objects were to fall out of the sky and into their yard, the children would be able to pick it up and play with it like a toy. They've also been taught by their colluding parents to believe that prowling cats are a mortal menace to be destroyed on sight. The kids spend much of the day doing repetitive chores, playing meaningless games and being taught an incorrect vocabulary (they use the word "phone" when they really mean "salt," for example). The father regularly pays a young woman (Anna Kalaitzidu) he works with - the only person from the outside world the children are allowed to meet - to come and have sex with his post-pubescent son, and severely beats the kids every time they step out of line.
A stunning allegory about the evils of totalitarianism, "Dogtooth" is somewhat reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" in its basic premise and setup, only here the guiding principle seems to be less about protecting the young ones from the harsh realities of a modern world and more about this one man's finding a way to achieve a kind of apotheosis for himself - making himself a god in the eyes of his children. For not only does he make them reliant on him for all the basic necessities of life, but he's made it so that they accept without question the "truths" of the physical and moral order he's established for them to live by.
The man and his wife have together inverted and perverted the very definition of parenthood. Rather than grooming their children for an adult life in the real world, these parents deliberately infantilize their offspring, making it virtually impossible for them to leave the home and start a life of their own. This ensures that the kids will be there to take care of them for the rest of their lives.
On a broader scale, the movie is a searing indictment of the power of propaganda, showing how easy it is to mislead people and to compel them to do what one wants simply by feeding them false information and, thus, skewing their view of realty and the truth. And isn't this how totalitarian dictatorships are born and sustained? But there's also an innate desire for liberty and independence lurking in the recesses of every human soul that must finally assert itself in a desperate run for freedom, and the movie addresses that reality as well.
The movie is both raw and provocative as it takes on some rather touchy sexual themes - mainly involving incest - that some in the audience may find disturbing and discomfiting to put it mildly. There's also a fair amount of full-frontal nudity, brutal violence and more-than-simulated sex scenes in the movie.
Yorgos Lanthimos' direction is spare and stripped-down, as befits a parable, with off-kilter visual framing that heightens the bizarre nature of the piece.
"Dogtooth" is unnerving, thought-provoking and provocative - and a must-see for the unconventional, adventurous movie-watcher.
on October 8, 2010
Well, this film was highly anticipated by me (it had won the un Certain Regard prize at Cannes). The message is one of enclosed despair, it mirrors what it's like to be perpetually condemned to a preverbal state, and not having the tools to deal with it. It seems that, once play can no longer sustain oneself, one must retreat to a world of sexuality and aggression. Since the eldest daughter incorporated the nameless and hopeless lifestyle imposed by her parents, she was indeed an incarnation of their nefarious deeds. The only way to break free from their rules would be to attack their rules, and this could only be accomplished by attacking herself. The scene where she knocks her tooth out with a hammer is intense and realistic, yet behind pain and destruction there is beauty, in the disfigured and bloody smile leering back from the mirror. Life could no longer go on the way it had, the incestuous nature of the family unit had reached an extreme. In a bizarre bathtub scene, the brother sits there and gropes the naked bodies of his sisters, one at a time, I imagine in an attempt to see which causes him to be more aroused. As everything else that conveys true emotion in this family, the scene transpires in uncomfortable silence, the demon of preverbal communication again casting its shadow. Born preverbal, dead preverbal, as the labyrinth of abandoned speech is manifest in the eldest daughter's aborted escape, remaining locked in the car trunk, representing in a very vivid manner that, upon mustering the desire to leave the perverted Eden in whence she dwelled, she was in effect entering her coffin.
on July 9, 2011
A mid level industrialist raises his family in an environment devoid of most modern conveniences but imbued with a special hatred of airliners. The telephone is carefully hidden, only his wife knows where it is, a fence erected around the house is also a boundary the children and wife have never trespassed, but most of all, in order to keep his the two daughters and son uncorrupted, (their hatred of airliners and the people who fly on them apparently doesn't count) they have been taught a sanitized language where "zombie" is "a small yellow flower" and the female reproductive region is known as "keyboard". Periodically, the industrialist pimps for the boy, and for a price, procures the services of Christina, a security guard at the plant.
Just when Director Giorgos Lanthimos seems to remove all limits to the level of parental control, Christina shows an interest not only in the boy but also the two sisters, conferring on one of them VHS tapes of Rocky, Jaws and other classics in exchange for libidinous favors. The daughter, of course, emulates what she sees and hears on the tapes, and such an obvious clash of cultures ensues that it changes the relationships in the household. All of this sets up the question: does the influence on children come from parenting or from the culture around us? The film's answers seem ambiguous and unsatisfying. Thimios Bakatakis' camerawork is good but not inspired - we want some kind of resolution at the film's end, and Bakatakis seems determined not to give us one.
on March 18, 2014
I'm sure there's some deep, symbolic meaning behind this film, but I couldn't tell you what it was and I don't really mind that I don't know. To me it's just fascinating. It's a somewhat morbid, messed up tale of an isolated family that knows nothing of the outside world and is tricked by the parents into thinking the world is a dangerous place and they're not allowed to leave their yard. It's so interesting to see the psychology behind the family unfold and watch how the actors portray these odd, naive characters.
You won't be able to predict the story, and you'll never know what'll happen next. If you're looking for something to surprise you or a film about something you've never seen before, this is it. My only real complaint was the ending. I'm sure it was part of the symbolism that flew over my head, but it didn't make a lot of literal sense to me, so this movie kind of didn't have an ending in my mind. Otherwise it's a very interesting movie to watch, and I can't think of a word to describe it besides interesting. Eclectic? Disturbing? Perhaps, but in the best sense possible. I'd highly recommend this movie to someone who likes foreign films and is looking for something weird and quirky to watch.
on January 24, 2015
A very beautiful movie, and intensely disturbing, yet artfully restrained. Perhaps the most notable thing about the movie is that it has absolutely no exposition whatsoever. You're just presented with this family, a relatively robust and comfortable upper middle class family living in a gorgeous Greek country home with a massive garden and pool. There are weird things. For instance, the children have been taught to use words differently, specific words, words such as "telephone", which is something the parents don't want the kids to know exists. And then there are the liaisons that the father seems to be arranging for his son. He takes a female security guard from his work and brings her over to have sex with the son on a regular basis.
Oh, and yes: the three children, a boy and two fraternal girl twins, don't seem to have any names.
It's a fascinating narrative situation that Lyle Kessler explored in his play Orphans; the children have been systematically isolated and brainwashed their whole lives. Their mother is in on it, but its clear that the father is the instigator and driving force behind it all. He's not your stereotypical tyrant father. He does not shout or torment the children for torment's sake; he even brings an element of whimsy and wonder to the lives of the children, as when he leads them to believe the swimming pool is invaded by sea bream or that airplanes have dropped out of the sky and onto the lawn. He does, however, control his family by constantly pushing them toward his version of perfection, by ruthlessly beating his children in the rare instances when they do go against him, and by, in a pivotal point of the movie, forcing the eldest twin (known simply as "The Eldest") to do something nobody should ever have to.
Even with these climactic atrocities that reveal the father's true character, the most disturbing parts of the movie are the quiet ones, such as when the father says he will play the children a recording of their grandfather singing. He puts on a record of Frank Sinatra, and as Old Blue Eyes croons, the father translates Fly Me To The Moon into Greek, translating the song about love's exultation into another piece of brainwashing about the cruciality of insular family life; or at the parents' wedding anniversary when the twins dance and all the movements are so strange, childlike, alien to any recognizable style of dance from the outside world.
If you can't take quiet, European art movies, this one is definitely not up your alley, but if you can, this one delivers the goods.
on November 24, 2010
I've been waiting to see "Dogtooth" for some time. I saw a preview for it at my local art house theater and was immediately intrigued. After viewing it a number of times,I'm happy to say that it didn't disappoint. Dogtooth is a tricky film to define. I would say it's a dark comedy/psychological thriller but then again...That's me. Dogtooth follows the lives of three teenagers, a boy and his two sisters, and their manipulative patients. The teenagers are not allowed outside the confines of their home and constantly have to compete with each other in order to prove their worth to their mother and father.
The conflict of the film is when a "babysitter" in brought into to the house to serve as the son's prostitute. What the parents don't know is that the babysitter sneaks in videotapes in order to "befriend" the two sisters. This starts a chain of events that leads to the children to start acting a little strange(I should say, Stranger than usual), in subtle and not so subtle ways. Dogtooth is an excellent film. It's an powerful statement on how much impact parents influence has on a child's mental health. It's dark and disturbing and has a nasty habit of staying in the back of your mind.
What I enjoyed most was the creative ways used to show how ignorant the children are. Whenever a plane flies over their house, the kids run around like mad and the parents throw a little plastic plane when the kids aren't looking. The child that finds the plastic plane triumphantly presents it to their father in exchange for a sticker. They really believe that they found the plane that was just flying over their yard. Dogtooth is disturbing, completing and at times amusing. If you like your films strange and thought provoking then Dogtooth should not be missed.
on November 15, 2015
I bought the exactly the same dvd in Korea(Korean version) but they masked(censored) the nudity(the man's part).
I was really mad and ordered again from amazon.(American version)
Now I am feeling a little bit better.
Good strange movie worth watching and worth owning.
a little expensive for the 'not new' film though.
on October 24, 2015
This movie makes your mind go in so many directions. It causes you to question society, our viewpoints, training of children, isolation, deprivation. It can be at times somewhat funny, but in its own unusual way makes you ponder over what you've seen. This isn't a feel good movie, it has a dark side to it.
on May 17, 2015
This film was totally bizarre, but also utterly fascinating, and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was great filmmaking. I was mesmerized all the way through.
I usually dislike experimental films, but it was like a slow moving catastrophe, totally hypnotic, which had me entranced. From the lies the parents tell their children, to their gullibility, and also their interaction with their parents and with each other.
The performances are perfect. You wouldn't believe if there was a false step. Totally amoral, crazy parents hide their children away from the world, inventing lies, so their children do not go beyond the gate of their own house. Cats are evil, and they should not trespass beyond the border of their gate. Only the loss of a supposed dogtooth would let them leave.
Yet, the parents enjoy pornography, and allow their son to indulge in sex with a stranger, who they bring to the house just for that purpose. The oldest child blackmails the young woman arranged to have sex with the son for things. She did not know her life was so limited. And she breaks free.
I don't understand the parents' reasoning, especially in light of what they let their son to do, and the fact that they were willing to sacrifice their daughters to perversity.
There is no reasoning. They are in their own world.
The film did not conclude in either a positive or negative note.
Kind of brilliant really.