Monday, January 24, 2011

Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

"Dogtooth," perhaps the year's most abrasive film (and the winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes 2009), puts you in the company of people you would never, ever want to know and makes you feel awkward about it for every one of its 94 minutes (especially with its contracted aspect ratio). It sees a family with parents who control the lives of their college age children, who've never actually left their property before. They do this by redefining words that are connected to the outside world, by manufacturing stories about a brother who left the house and who was slaughtered by a house cat, by neglecting to give them names (perhaps to swat off the implications behind each), and by convincing them the only way that they can exit the expanse is by car (which is what the father, played by Christos Stergioglou, uses to go to work).

The children can go off "when their dogtooth falls," but only learn to drive when it grows back (which makes it I'm pretty sure impossible to ever get out, though my knowledge of dentistry is limited). The film gives no motivation behind the parents raising their family like this, which viewers may complain about. But that's entirely beside the point. "Dogtooth" is about how parents try to shield their children from the world, and how that's not necessarily a good thing.

The parents of the film do allow one other person into their system, a parking attendant named Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) who comes periodically to have sex with the son (Hristos Passalis) and who is valued by the two sisters (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni) as a contact with the outside world. Things get a bit out of order when Christina gives the girls contraband items (a "sparkling" headband, "Rocky," "Jaws," and "Flashdance") in exchange for the oral sex their brother won't give her. When she exits the picture later on, and I won't say why or how, the parents decide to have their children practice incest. (Just to let people who are hanging on to the thread of hope that this is still viewable with young children know, full-frontal nudity and explicit sex are present here.) At this point, director Giorgios Lanthimos proves he will leave no rock unturned, which qualifies as an achievement of some sort. This is one guy who knows he'll never have another crack at this same material, and that when you've gone a certain distance, it's best to go all the way.

"Dogtooth," believe it or not, is also a pretty comical movie. It's enjoyably unpredictable in its etymological invention, sprawling to cover "zombie," "pussy," and "keyboard" (possibly the biggest zinger in the entire film). It's one of those works that bends familiarity for laughs, but whereas in others this is an extremely annoying technique, here it produces some good results. (Also amusing: the mother's threats of "giving birth" if her children don't behave.) The film also knows how to agonize you. There are a few instances of this, none more prominent than the one involving a weight.

The film's oppressiveness is both its biggest strength and flaw. If it made concessions, it would be a lesser film, yet the audience may retain more of a connection with the characters. Also, like the film I just saw, Chomet's "The Illusionist," the scenes sometimes feel disconnected and poorly put together. This could be deliberate (as so much of this movie is), but perhaps not. Finally, the ending is very logical in a "1984"-conclusion sort of way but noticeably abrupt. If the rest of the film is a kick in the groin, the very end is a middle finger thrown on top of it. But I'm not upset at Lanthimos about it, in the way that I was with Godard over "Film Socialisme." With solid acting and atmosphere, and a director who's definitely not asleep at the wheel, "Dogtooth" earns Greece's spot on this year's Oscar Foreign Film Shortlist (and perhaps even more than that; we will see tomorrow and in upcoming weeks). B+

1 comment:

Colin said...

wouldn't it be hilarious if it won the Oscar? I'm rooting for it, for sure, although I still don't think I understood what I saw.