Archive Review: Dogtooth (2009)

Think your parents are/were overprotective? Not after “Dogtooth.” Giorgos Lanthimos’ film, the first Greek film to be nominated for an Oscar in more than 30 years, imagines the pinnacle of what sheltering and censorship of children would be like to an absurd degree. A strange and ruminating film that is as fascinating as it is disturbing and unpleasant, “Dogtooth,” in all its gratuitousness, embodies everything that a great film should.

Told in a series of clips that use a few takes a possible, Lanthimos shows us life in this family’s estate. The father (Chirstos Stergioglou) is the only one who ever leaves the premises, while the mother (Michele Valley) and three teenage children, two daughters and a son, stay at home. The mother is wise to it, but the kids only know the outside is dangerous (flesh- eating cats lurk around the fence for one thing) and they will not be able to leave until one of their dogteeth fall out. Of course when you’re a teenager, they don’t anymore.

Lanthimos covers the gamut of technicalities in terms of how this complete cut-off from society could work effectively. Every time the kids discover a word that has something to do with the outside world, the parents explain to them that it’s another name for something within the estate walls. For example, the “telephone” is salt and “zombies” are little yellow flowers. The real airplanes that fly overhead are explained to be nothing but plastic toys that occasionally fall out of the sky (and when one does, the kids run to claim it).

The only thing the parents seem to have trouble controlling is human nature, which begins the calamity. The film opens with one of its more perverse facets. Every week or so, the father brings Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a security guard from his work, to the estate and pays her to satisfy the sexual needs of the son (Hristos Passalis). Presumably, the parents believe that boys need an outlet for their urges or else they will manifest them in destructive ways, which in this case would upset the very tidy life of this family.

As an “outsider,” however, Christina brings with her some troubling influences. She somewhat seduces the eldest daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia), who’s smitten by her as she would be any guest to the home given the rarity of that occurrence. This, however, brief in the film, influences the eldest’s behavior pattern and sets off a series of events.

Lanthimos treats his film as an exhibit or exhibition of sorts. Choosing shots carefully and sticking with them for lengthy periods of time, the family becomes a case study. Jumping from scene to scene, the plot thrives on our curiosity as to why the parents have done this and in one what ways it has altered the psychology of the children. Most scenes either show how the parents maintain this grand illusion or how the children come up with games to keep themselves entertained.

Yet “Dogtooth” leaves its imprint in some explicit and uncomfortable sex scenes as well as a few instances of the father delivering discipline as he sees fit. Although these scenes are not unjustified in some ways because you have to be a bit sick and twisted to run your family like this, I would definitely argue that it’s gratuitous and largely for shock value.

The reason “too much” applies to “Dogtooth” comes from its lack of context. Lanthimos expects us to infer motivation for why the parents have set up this world and these boundaries, even so far as crossing ethical lines to maintain it. We see results that create these compelling and complex characters, but do not dive deeply into the psyche. “Dogtooth” serves only as a scarily affecting showcase meant warn us about the dangers of censorship and what can occur when manufacturing family and a lifestyle.

3.5/5 Stars

Written and Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Chirstos Stergioglou, Aggeliki Papoulia, Hristos Passalis, Mary Tsoni


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