If you think your family is weird, wait until you see what goes on in the family home depicted in the movie “Dogtooth”. The film by Greek filmmaker Giorgos Lanthimos is one of the current Oscar nominees for best foreign picture. It’s also a past award-winner at the Cannes Film Festival.
Things get off to a peculiar start in “Dogtooth” as three young adult “children” sit in bathroom listening to a tape recording made by their mother–intended to teach them unusual meanings to new words. The three kids have been raised by their parents in isolation in a country house surrounded by a tall fence. They are literally cut off from the outside world. Their father, who works on the outside, has convinced his kids that it is dangerous to leave their compound. Everything the children know is what they’ve been taught in this insulated world created and manipulated by their parents.
When an airplane flies over, mom secretly throws a toy plane onto the lawn, claiming that it fell from the sky, so that the children will compete to claim the toy as their own. Labels are removed from products before being brought home by dad. The son is taught that “zombies” are yellow flowers. There are many long silences, and nonsensical conversations that seem to go no where. There are also a few scenes containing unprovoked screams, realistic sex and also some fairly graphic violence. Before long, things begin to unravel, though it’s hard to detect real unraveling from normal behavior here.
The movie will confound and irritate you. It’s supposed to. While it’s shot in a calm, bright and natural style, it’s also somewhat experimental. For example, the actor’s heads are occasionally cropped out of the frame. Sometimes we are not provided with an establishing shot for a scene, so it takes a few minutes to discern what is going on. However, in all this weirdness, there is also beauty. One scene I remember has the kids play-fighting on the lawn while the camera moves around them, water from a nearby sprinkler splashes the camera lens, then the sunlight catches it just right. It’s an odd, lovely display of images and light on the screen.
But what’s going on here? Why would someone make a movie like this? It’s possible to interpret the film in many ways; however, the director (Lanthimos) says he didn’t hide a lot of metaphors in “Dogtooth.” He says simply that he was exploring how possible it is to control people’s minds and distort their perception about the world they live in with the information that you give them. He goes on to say that the indoctrination of the children by the parents in this film is a horrible and scary thing–and yet, the parents have good intentions while they do it.
When I view artistic films like this one, I sometimes think that the filmmaker is pretentious–too creative for his own good. But in this case, I don’t think so. “Dogtooth” is made by a smart and earnest director on a shoestring budget in a country with a small and struggling film industry. Yes, the movie is experimental and perhaps esoteric. But this is exactly the type of film we should celebrate and encourage.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
2009, not rated, 94 minutes, Drama