2009, NR, 94 min. Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos. Starring Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 12, 2010
Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, this strange Greek drama is a far cry from the Hellenic classics. A willfully perverse film, Dogtooth tells the story of an isolated family that lives in a walled-in enclave they call home. There is a mother, father, and three grown children, who appear to be in their late teens or early 20s and are never addressed by name. The father is the only family member to ever leave the compound; he goes to work daily as some kind of manager in a factory. The children dare not climb the walls because they have been told that there had been a fourth child who met death from venturing out. Given daily language lessons by their parents, they are taught incorrect meanings for many words, that the sea is a chair, and so on. With no understanding of the outside world and a warped understanding of the one in which they actually live, these naifs gambol about all day engaging in games that border on autism and incest. Life grows more complicated when the father brings in a woman from the outside to satisfy his son’s sexual needs. Director Lanthimos shows no interest in explicating this situation to his viewers. Much of the time, he doesn’t even frame whole individuals within his viewfinder. Is this a social experiment gone terribly wrong? Or a parable about the inherent dangers of paternalistic fascism? Perhaps a semiotic text about the meanings and use of language? The filmmakers (UT grad Athina Rachel Tsangari is one of the producers) are not unlike the domineering father of the story. I have as much insight into what Lanthimos is trying to accomplish as I do into his characters. Watching the film is akin to working through a mental puzzle and is frequently captivating. However, Dogtooth ultimately allows no satisfaction from solving its intrinsic mystery. It’s just weird. (Opens Sunday.)