REVIEW: Cinema Release: Dogtooth
Release date: 23rd April 2010
Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Aggeliki Papoulina, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis
Studio: Boo Productions
We’ve all heard arguments that children these days are wrapped up in cotton wool by overprotective parents. Director Giorgos Lanthimos takes this critique and runs wild with it, demonstrating the cost of maintaining a perfect family in a film of obsession and isolation.
Dogtooth offers us a glimpse into the life of a Greek family, structured around a foundation of discipline and order, regimented by a compulsive father (Stregioglou). His determination to shield them from the outside world extends beyond the anxiety of a dutiful father and his vision of an ideal family is embedded so deeply in his mindset that his grown-up son and two daughters (Passalis, Tsoni and Papoulina) have never been allowed to venture further than the bottom of the drive. Using the ignorance installed in the childish minds of his children and ultimately manipulating their fear both of him and the unknown, he rules in his own familial prison. Naïve and younger than their years, the children have been brainwashed with a false reality painted by their parents and reinforced by their seclusion. Brought up to believe in an elusive brother who defiantly left to live on the other side of “the wall”, they await the loss of their dogteeth to signify their authorised readiness to follow suit and leave the confines of their house.
Christina (Kalaitzidou) is a security officer employed by the father to come into the home and satisfy his son’s sexual needs; she is the only snatch of the outside world permitted into the household, under the watchful eye of the father. Viewers follow the family as they encounter persistent threats of truth, which increasingly plague the head of the house and drive him to neurosis as he struggles to fend them off. His children on the other hand, develop a taste for Christina’s alien ways and jeopardise the world that their father has worked so hard to secure.
Plot proves rather stark in this slow-paced drama, but this only makes it a stronger film. Its emphasis on characters and relationships between people is intensified by lengthy shots that linger not on carefully composed frames of stars’ faces, but on the family’s environment, their reality. Quirky but naturalistic dialogue weave in and out of these scenes, which come together in a fragmented portrayal of a distorted lifestyle. Whilst a sense of distance detaches the viewer from the family, the very strangeness of the situation is engrossing and prompts further viewing, simply to find out what new peculiarity is about to happen.
Although rather dark in its theme, graphic in its sex scenes and brutal in its occasional moments of violence, there are more than a few laughs along the way. Dog-barking lessons are just one of the bizarre customs adopted by the family: after all, what better way to deter those man-eating domestic cats? The absurd behaviour engrained in the children offer comic relief in circumstances that are in fact quite tragic.
The performances of those playing the children are intimately well-observed. They interact with each other in a way we expect to see in wildlife documentaries, playing and teasing each other like a litter of wolf cubs. They are competitive and quarrelsome, yet completely reliant on each other to keep boredom and loneliness at bay. Their father encourages their behaviour by inventing contests for them to participate in, so that they constantly strive to better each other and fulfil their father’s expectations. Whilst viewers may find it difficult to identify with any one of the children, the father is undoubtedly the villain of the piece, played with cool hostility by Stergioglou. His endless efforts to maintain power over his family range from cutting off labels from water bottles to creating a dialect unique to his house. As he carries out such exertions with admirable diligence, his complete lack of compassion and emotion move the viewer to resent him.
Comedy and repulsion successfully meet in Dogtooth to explore what really goes on behind closed doors. No one regards their family as normal, but few can claim to have suffered the upbringing presented in Lanthimos’s latest.