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

The winner of Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, Giorgios Lanthimos’ Dogtooth is unforgettably bizarre and unsettling. The film is a surrealist blend of drama, thriller and horror genres with some dark, dark comedy thrown in; with significant satirical undertones forcing the viewer to question society and the nature of control over others. Lanthimos clearly doesn’t mind shaking up his audience, where the focus on an extremely unusual and unnamed Greek family (Father, Mother, Older Daughter, Younger Daughter and Son) highlights effectively disconcerting individual and collective central performances.

In a secluded area somewhere in Greece, Dogtooth portrays the life of a family unit under strict control of Mother (Michelle Valley) and Father (a most particularly menacing Christos Stergioglou). The parents are so strict in fact that their ‘children’ (who appear in their late teens to early twenties) have a life that exists only within a walled perimeter, where extraordinary tales of a cruel world outside the wall keep them inside a physical and psychological home-styled prison.

Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia), Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) and Son (Hristos Passalis) display a naiveté that belies their years, where they have been taught that common domesticated cats are the most dangerous creatures alive, and aeroplanes are toys that can easily fall out of the sky and into their garden. Their parents have even created a warped language for their offspring to speak, where the ‘sea’ is an armchair and ‘zombies’ are flowers in the garden.

Father is the only member of the enclosed household who is allowed to venture outside the property, travelling to work in a second life as a factory manager. From here, he brings home female security officer Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) to robotically satisfy the sexual urges of Son. However, Christina brings elements of the outside world into the household, and soon the manipulative Utopian world of the parents begins to crash around them as their ‘children’ begin to rebel amidst scenes of escalating violence and sexual awakening…

There is a metaphor in Dogtooth that sums up Father’s intent in the sinister upbringing of his grown-up children. When Father is talking to a dog trainer in his dual life away from his miniature empire, the trainer states: “Dogs are like clay, and our job here is to mould them.” Father (and indeed Mother) certainly believe that their offspring are theirs to be moulded at all times, extending the dog metaphor by telling their ‘children’ that they may only leave the compound if or when their ‘dogtooth’ falls out. There are also several disturbingly comic scenes where the family are trained by Father (utilising skills learned from the dog trainer) to bark like dogs to ward off danger, especially the allegedly terrifying threat of domestic cats.

In his portrayal of the devious head of household, Christos Stergioglou is the undoubted villain of the piece (although Mother is certainly more than an adequate accomplice). Stergioglou maintains a strange air of calm for almost the entire film, adding to a sense of creepiness that prevails in his shocking display of authority and hyper over-protectiveness over his progeny. Father is a man who engineers the continual lies and deceit which cover over his walled estate to the extent where he will rip his work clothes and pour fake blood over himself to suggest that he has been mauled by a cat in the world outside.

Yet in bringing Christina into his home, Father unwittingly invites the outside world in to his distorted domain. She becomes bored of the mechanical sex service she is paid to provide for the benefit of Son, and begins to sexually manipulate Older Daughter for her own satisfaction. It is through this that the rebellion against the parents begins, led by Older Daughter’s increased awareness of a world separate from all that she has known.

The performances of the grown-up ‘children’ are excellent, particularly where their blank naivety mixes with very adult extremes of sex and violence. All three siblings are continually forced into competition against each other, although the in-fighting common amongst siblings is here displayed with attempts to slash and break bones with knives and hammers. As Youngest Daughter (Mary Tsoni) is particularly childlike in her actions, despite the serious nature of the items she wants to ‘play’ with. For instance, in one scene she instigates a game with her sister whereby they both have to consume a high dosage of anaesthetic and “the first person to wake up wins.” The actors are so convincing in their roles, however, that we can see that the siblings do not have any awareness of the consequences of their actions, although with Older Daughter’s increasing awareness of human manipulation, their boundaries begin to be pushed to the limit.

The cinematography of Dogtooth adds to the film’s sense of absurdist surrealism, creating a somewhat slow and dreamlike tone. The staid decor of the house and the plain clothing of the unwitting prisoners (or Father’s family) hide the trauma bubbling under the surface. This is punctuated only in intermittent (but constantly threatening) scenes of graphic sex and violence, including, notably, a section of the film where Son attacks a cat that has wandered into the walled garden with a pair of garden shears.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Dogtooth DVD features only a trailer as a special feature, where the subject matter is hardly a mainstream barrel of laughs. Director Lanthimos succeeds however in hinting at the nature of extreme power and control amongst scenes of sex and violence that will offend, combining drama, horror and thriller genres with a very dark undercurrent of satirical humour most definitely not for the faint of heart. DB

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