Dogtooth (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
26Jan/110

Dogtooth (2010)

Andrew INDIFFERENTThis is a film that begins in a realm of profound creepiness and ends on several incorrect notes that are played repeatedly throughout the second and third acts.  Charming topics like incest, overprotective families,  animal cruelty and other lovely moments are bandied about with the sterility of a production by tissue box Howard Hughes.  I can't deny that the resulting images have power, but for what purpose any of this was assembled for and why I am in equal puzzlement.

Welcome to Dogtooth, just released this week in concert with it's nomination for the Oscar's in the  Best Foreign Language film category.  So, in the interest of full disclosure, if I begin to arc my eyebrow questioningly at "why" exactly this was nominated then perhaps some knowledge of modern historical events in Greece might shed some light on it.  Or at least that knowledge might help me piece together why some elements of the plot and setting are as they exist.

Dogtooth follows the daily routine of an unnamed family whose members are never named.  For helpful audience identification they are known as Father (Christos Stergigoglou), Mother (Michelle Valley), Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papaoulia), Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) and Son (Christos Passalis).  Father and Mother have been raising their children on a compound in total isolation of the outside world.  The children are taught to define words such as "pussy" to mean lamp and "zombie" to mean small yellow flower.

Cuddling with ma and pa is kind of adorable and expected with really young kids. For men in their 20's it just leads to some uncomfortable questions at dinner parties.

To what purpose?  The parents aren't saying.  It certainly hasn't done any favors for the children who have now gone well beyond the age where their sexuality has blossomed and the parent's have to use some creative measures to placate those urges.  Father regularly brings home Christine (Anna Kalaitzidou) from the factory that he owns and runs to sexually service his son and act as an ambassador to the outside world for the sisters.  The parents also tell the children of a mythical Older Brother who was free to go to the outside world for being disobedient.  The children will be free to join him once they have lost their dogteeth (canines).

The problems begin when Christine is becoming frustrated by her sex with Son and needs release.  So, using Older Daughter's willingness to believe anything she's told, Christine trades VHS tapes for cunnilingus.  Older Daughter doesn't quite understand what she's done but passes the behavior off to Younger Daughter who begins licking people randomly for favors and possibly gifts.  Then there's Brother who has been having "arguments" with Older Brother.  He also has a brief psychotic episode when a stray cat wanders onto the compound.  All of this threatens to break the tenuous hold that the parents have on their children's perception of what is real or not.

The larger question becomes whether the film builds a sufficient enough case to care about any of this.  The motives of the parents are never brought to question and, quite frankly, given the extent to which they are willing to go to protect the compound a little elaboration would have been nice.  At the very least what the father wants is made abundantly clear in a scene taking place in a dog pound ("Do you want a friend or a pet?") followed shortly by a similar moment where he makes his family get on all fours and bark to scare off cats.

This is typical of the warm and welcoming environment that the family has carefully maintained.

Is this effective at all?  Well, yes and no.  I admire the craft that went into the film and the harsh sterility of the environment.  It makes sense that the children would all be germ obsessed clean freaks given the order of "perfection" demanded of the compound.  And the actors and actresses all do a fine job of doing what they are asked to for their characters but they're never really given any sort of emotional arc to go on.  Plus the situations themselves deserve points for creativity.  It's not too many films where a stray cat is cause for existential alarm and where Frank Sinatra is reinterpreted as "don't ever disobey your father" (though, come to think of it, that might not be too big a stretch).

It boils down to the fact that the movies motives escape me.  If it's intended as a comedy then too many of the scenes skirt the edge of severe psychological trauma to be funny in any sense.  If it's intended as some kind of drama examining the effects of isolation and social deprivation then it takes things to such absurd extremes that it kills any point it could have made early on.  Ultimately it's just a baffling and unpleasant experience that feels like it's grasping at a larger structure but can't quite figure out how to make that last leap.

Dogtooth, strangely enough, recalls that infamous horror film of 2010 Human Centipede.  They both rely on bizarre situations, sudden violence and incredibly awkward humor to fill the gaps of coherency within their incredibly sterilized worlds.  Human Centipede at least had the decency to know what kind of film it was and why it existed.  Dogtooth can barely even get out of one scene without family members licking each other and leaving a perplexed but faithful audience.  Surely something this weird can't be without some purpose.

Surely.

Dogtooth (2010)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou.
Starring  Christos Stergigoglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papaoulia, Mary Tsoni, Christos Passalis and Anna Kalaitzidou.

Posted by Andrew

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