SXSW 2010 Review: DOGTOOTH (KYNODONTAS)
Writers: Giorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis
Anyone who follows the film blogging world should be well-acquainted with a few names of online critics that could eloquently be referred to as "luminaries" and affectionately known as "big papas." Two of these guiding daddies of our world played a big part in my viewing of Greece's DOGTOOTH. James Rocchi recommended DOGTOOTH to Scott Weinberg. Rocchi recommended it to me. Both loved it. These are recommendations you cannot ignore. The film won the Un Certain Regard Award at last year's Cannes Film Festival (which recognizes emerging and special talent at the festival). That's another recommendation you can't ignore. Which is all very appropriate - because DOGTOOTH is a film you cannot ignore.
Somewhere in rustically suburban Greece, there is a family. This is not a normal family. This is not even a remotely normal family. We never learn their names - so it's best to refer to them as film seems to - Father, Mother, Older Sister, Son, and Younger Sister. While Father has a job outside the home, the other four members of the family do not leave the home. Ever. The children (who are really in their early twenties) have been confined inside a carefully constructed alternate world for their entire existence. They have been taught to fear the outside world and its inhabitants (they believe cats are the most dangerous predators in the world), believe they cannot leave the home until their dogteeth fall out, and have had only severely limited interactions with those outside their families. They have also been taught incorrect meanings for a variety of random words (to them, a "telephone" is a salt shaker, a "motorway" is a strong wind). They are absolutely and unflinchingly crippled.
Things unravel for the family when the transgressions of a chosen interloper threaten to fell the tightly-wound lies they live in. Christina has been picked by Father to occasionally visit the house (blindfolded during the entire trip there and back) to have sex with Son. It's treated by the family as formality - something that must be done, an extension of their daily physical exercise. But Christina has other desires, and when they are impressed upon Older Daughter, the trickle-down effect is fast and furious. The family and the film begin to unravel in increasingly shocking ways.
DOGTOOTH is both deeply unsettling and darkly funny. The film treats both extreme violence and passionless sex with the same unwavering eye - the camera does not shy from depicting the most uncomfortable and shocking moments that occur. But it's not some sort of take on torture porn - it's the opposite of gratuitous. The vacuum the children live in makes it nearly impossible for them to accurately contextualize their actions and their consequences. The things that happen in DOGTOOTH are not for the faint of heart, don't mistake the family's made-up world as being magical or special, it's a twisted Eden for the broken. But it's unforgettable and brave, unflinching in its admonishment of everyone within it.
Note - cat lovers, don't see it.
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