Dogtooth *** ½
Directed By: Giorgos Lanthimos.
Written By: Efthymis Filippau & Giorgos Lanthimos.
Starring: Christos Stergioglou (Father), Michele Valley (Mother), Aggeliki Papoulu (Older Daughter), Mary Tsoni (Younger Daughter), Hristos Passalis (Son), Anna Kalaitzidou (Christina).
Dogtooth is one of the more disturbing movies of the year. It certainly is not an easy film to watch, and yet it is a film that is unique and fascinating. It kind of reminded me of last year’s The White Ribbon, by director Michael Haneke, by way of Luis Bunuel. If that sounds like an interesting film to you, than Dogtooth is for you. All others should beware.
The movie mainly takes place on the spacious estate of a wealthy factory owner in Greece. He has a wife, a son and two daughters, who never leave the estate at all. With the help of his wife, who is a willing accomplice at least on some level, he has raised the children, who are now in their late teens, completely cut off from the outside world. All they know is what their parents tell them – and they of course do not tell them the truth. The children are scared to step outside the estate at all – believing it is not safe and they will be killed if they do so. They are told they have another brother, who made mistakes and has now been banished, and lives in the woods on the outside, desperate and alone. The father can travel outside, but only in the safety of the car. The children will be ready to leave when they lose their canine teeth. They are not even taught the correct words for everything (like they are told that a zombie is a yellow flower), and when a stray cat wanders onto their property, they believe it is a blood thirsty killer – so the son quickly kills it with his garden shears. The only person from outside that comes in is a female security guard at the father’s plant – he brings her in to satisfy the son’s sexual desires – although the sex they have is completely devoid of passion.
The father’s purpose does not become clear until he visits a dog trainer one day on the outside – and listens to the trainer tell him about what he is doing to his dog so that he will remain loyal to his owner forever – and be there to protect his property. But even if only hints at what the father is really up.
The reason I mentioned The White Ribbon off the top of this review is because, like that film, this film is really a critique of a fascist ruling. The father wants to control every aspect of his children’s lives – children who do not know any different because this is how they were raised and taught. And yet, as will inevitably happen, the children – at least one in this case – will eventually rebel, even though they do not know how. It happens because of that woman that the father brings in for his son’s sexual plaything. She doesn’t do precisely what she is told – and introduces the older daughter to sex as well. But much more damaging, she also gives her a few videotapes. We never find out what was on those tapes – but it obviously has an impact. Even when the father finds out, and banishes the woman, and he still thinks he controls his daughter – he really doesn’t. The spell has been broken, and he will not be able to contain it anymore.
Dogtooth is not an easy film to watch. It is disturbing in its violence and perversity – not just in the sex in the film, but also in just the way the children relate to each other and highlighted by the creepiest dance number in recent memory. It is a film I admired much more than I actually enjoyed. And yet, it is a challenging and fascinating little film. Greece, buoyed by all the critical support the film has received, selected it for its entry into the Oscar race this year. It doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning – or even being nominated – but it should be. Few films are this complex and intricate.