Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009)


Christos Stergioglou (Father), Michele Valley (Mother), Aggeliki Papoulia (Older daughter), Mary Tsoni (Younger daughter), Hristos Passalis (Son). Screenplay by Giorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou. Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos. Rating: 18. Running time: 94 minutes.

Dogtooth is adventurous, horrifying filmmaking. It shoves a repulsive educational experiment down our throats with a bold no-questions-asked approach, and leaves us with the possible motives untouched as to why a couple would ever confine their children to their house and garden, teaching them the wrong meanings of words and convincing them of the barbarity of the world outside their fences. We’re left to put the pieces together as best we can, and it’s hard but rewarding work. By the end we’re left feeling a little sick, but also addicted to the internal logic of this miniature, surrealist dystopia.

It begins difficulty. We’re hurled into the family’s daily routine with little forewarning of its idiosyncrasies, except the opening scene’s tape recording of the new words of the day. ‘Sea’ means something like ‘chair.’ For what reason? To ensure alienation and the impossibility of meaningful discourse if they ever escaped, perhaps, though rarely does the dialogue lose us, and we’re not completely in on the game, so that seems improbable. Even more bizarre is how they are taught to believe that aeroplanes flying overhead occasionally fall down and are the toy models secretly left by the mother scattered around the garden. When a cat somehow gets into the compound, the son freaks out. He stabs it dead with a pair of pruning shears, and we are forced to watch it. Absurdities are thrown at us over and over by Dogtooth, every time the more shocking and contributing to the picture of a world we are glad is restricted to celluloid.

That fact, however – that this could only ever be a film – is definitely intended to guarantee an element of very dark humour. Something nagged at me to resist the giggling, but it’s hard to not laugh at footage of a family lined up on all fours being taught how to bark, to scare away future cats. The whole film is a series of mad sequences, a foreign bonkers-fest that stereotypes compel us to staple the tag ‘art house’ on. That label is fair, but shouldn’t be a source of contempt. If you’re attentive, Dogtooth is as engrossing as any summer blockbuster, but it’ll also make you mentally squirm without once employing cheap tricks. It dares to be devious, and pays off perfectly, no moreso than in its untidy but ingenious ending.


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