REVIEW: DVD Release: Dogtooth

Film: Dogtooth
Release date: 13th September 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 97 mins
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passali
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Studio: Verve
Format: DVD
Country: Greece

An intense study of three young adults contained within a fabricated existence constructed by their parents. Yorgos Lanthimos casts an unflinching eye on the taboo, his minimalist approach uncovering disturbingly real performances from a brave cast.

Father and Mother live a seemingly perfect existence in a large, secluded compound in the countryside, where they look after their three children.

Daughter, Older Daughter and Son never leave the compound on specific instruction of their parents, who tell them horror stories about the wildlife outside the garden fence.

The children spend their days learning a fabricated vocabulary and competing for the approval of their parents, in the hope that they will receive points of merit, or perhaps one of the toy airplanes that fly over the house and sometimes fall from the sky.

The only outside visitor to the compound is Christina, an employee of Father who services the sexual needs of Son. Christina soon begins to take advantage of Older Daughter, trading outside stimuli for sexual favours. This incurs the wrath of Father, who then decides to look within the family for a new sexual partner for Son…

Yorgos Lanthimos’s stark vision of an enforced microcosm has no real agenda other than the observation of cruel experimentation disguised as parental instinct. The reasons behind this experiment, the motivation of Mother and Father, and many of the films other moral conundrums, are open to interpretation.

There is a nihilistic streak running through Dogtooth that is rarely seen in modern cinema. Not since the early work of Lars Von Trier and Abel Ferrara has such an indifferent eye been cast on human suffering. As viewers, our compulsion to take sympathy on the children is at odds with our morbid fascination, which in turn is conducive towards being complicit with the parents. A purposeful lack of any kind of cinematic gloss accentuates the bleak realism of Lanthimos’ film. While not exactly dogme, the distinctly minimalist style is contextually apt and contributes greatly towards to the unsettling atmosphere.

The narrative of Dogtooth is steadfastly murky. No motive is offered for the parents’ decision to imprison their offspring; no explanation is given as to why they decide to fill their heads with a nonsense language and encourage them to compete in cruel popularity games that often end in shocking acts of violence.

When Father visits an elite canine training facility to retrieve a new addition to the family he is offered a clinical deconstruction of animal obedience, the only insight we have into the strange lives of the family is the expression of understanding on Father’s face.

The children should be an object of sympathy, yet even this isn’t as simple as it should be in Lanthimos’s strange, sombre reality. Daughter creates many of the games that start the fierce competition between her brother and sister. Son is replete with childlike innocence, yet his position as future patriarch means his role within the family is resented by his sisters. It is Older Sister, played with quiet confidence by Aggeliki Papoullia, who emerges as the film’s only glimmer of hope. Whether she is quoting Jaws by the pool or displaying a blossoming penchant for manipulation with Christina, Older Daughter seems to be the only one of the children that has evolved past the restrictive world created by the parents. Although, in the film’s final moments, the sense of hope is tainted by the bleak reality of the children’s institutionalised existence.

An unsettling psycho-drama that recalls Von Trier, Dogtooth is disturbing, thought provoking and, at times, uncomfortably amusing. Yorgos Lanthimos’ strange portrait of an experimental family unit attempts to embroil its audience in the sinister machinations of Mother and Father. KT

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