Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos. 2009.

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Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth is a provocative and disturbing film about the effect on a middle-class suburban family when the father takes total control of the lives of the three adult children, restricting their access to the outside world. Presumably in their early to middle twenties, the three unnamed children, a boy and his two sisters (Christos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, and Mary Tsoni) walk, talk, and act like zombies. 

They are wooden, undeveloped emotionally, and uncertain about how to handle their sexual urges. Their affect is bland and they talk in short, choppy sentences, delivered without expression. Confined to their house and not allowed to set foot outside the gate that encloses a lovely garden and a swimming pool, they are told that only when their dogtooth falls out and then grows back will they be ready to leave the nest. Everything the children think, feel, and do is tightly controlled by their father (Christos Stergioglou) and mother (Michele Valley) who feed them lies about the world. 

Words are distorted to the point of absurdity. They learn that "a motorway is a very strong wind, and "a carbine is a beautiful white bird." A woman's sexual organs are called a typewriter, a zombie is a yellow flower, and Frank Sinatra is their grandfather. The father teaches them that they must be protected from the world because there are cats out there that are ferocious man-eaters, leading the brother to horribly kill a stray cat he sees in the garden with a shearing knife (it is stated that no animals were harmed in the making of the film). 

On the outside, the siblings are docile, but underneath there are elements of rage that occasionally flare up as when the elder sister slashes her brother's foot with a knife because he was playing with her toy airplane. Though the children have been home-schooled and seem intelligent, they spend their day playing bizarre games such as seeing who can keep their fingers under a hot water tap the longest, and smothering themselves with an anesthetic to see who will be the first to wake up. The insanity is even choreographed to a bizarre dance routine in which the elder sister works herself into such frenzy that she is ordered to stop by her father. 

The only outside influence comes from Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a security guard at the factory the father works at who is brought to the house blindfolded to have uninvolving sex with the brother. Though there is no rape or sexual abuse, there is a physical assault when the elder sister watches a VHS tape of the films Rocky and Jaws in exchange for sexual favors from Christina and is hit over the head with the videos by her father. Viewers get a repeat showing of the father's violent tendencies when Christina is likewise battered with a VCR for “bringing evil” into their home. 

Her presence in the home does have the effect of loosening the household's tightly-woven structure, however, and brings the film to a powerful but ambiguous end. Lanthimos offers few clues as to what he is trying to say and the viewer must decide whether the film is a darkly humorous social/political/economic satire in the tradition of Luis Bunuel, a sci-fi horror story in the mold of Michael Haneke, an attack on capitalism, a reaction to the excesses of home schooling, or something else. Whatever meaning you ascribe to it, Dogtooth is a jarring experience that you are not likely to soon forget. 


Howard Schumann

Also see Jamie Garwood's review of Dogtooth

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