A bitingly bitter and funny drama
by Joseph Proimakis
- By winning the Un Certain Regard Prize in Cannes, Dogtooth proved to be the little Greek movie that could
Shot on a tight budget over five weeks in the late, hot Greek summer, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth [+see also:
interview: Yorgos Lanthimos
film profile] is a drama about an isolated family of five, whose children never leave their estate ("not before your dog-tooth falls off"). They are being home-schooled and home-entertained in peculiar ways by their parents, so that their fear of going outside will grow as much as their dependence on the family for safety.
The family’s artificial bliss is short-circuited when a female security officer (Anna Kalaitzidou) the father brings to soothe his son’s sexual urges gives the eldest sister a present and in return asks for a sexual favor herself.
Dogtooth explores the ways a dominant pater familias (Christos Stergioglou) controls and creates dependence in everyone, from the mother (Michelle Valley), son (Hristos Passalis) and daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) to the people he hand picks to bring to the family. Lanthimos paints the dystopian portrait of a “sterilised” family in fear of contamination by influences the father deems unsuitable, hurtful and inimical to what he considers a proper, useful education.
Lanthimos uses slightly twisted frames to reflect the family's jaded worldview. The children barely fit inside the screen, which underlines the disproportion of their physical growth to their mental state. He makes sure the emphasis is on the antithesis, without ever worrying about overstating his intentions.
The story's undercurrent is a parable on the ways group leaders manage to dilute and alter their groups' perception of reality, by relentlessly maintaining walls of preposterous lies around them. Walls that ensure that not only will people be unable to escape this manipulation, they will even be glad to be within its protective reach.
Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou infuse the script with socio-political undercurrents that are fine-tuned by an omnipresent sense of the darkest humour Greek cinema has produced in a long time. And though the gags may be a matter of taste at points, the skilful acting by young and older talent alike helps give the film an overall breezy sense of biting, bittersweet, slightly absurdist comedy that makes an otherworldly, fun experience out of a subject one would expect to be a bumpy ride.
The filmmakers kept their movie private and secure from outsiders, much like the protagonists keep their children, but Dogtooth’s first contact with the world was definitely rewarding. Bearing the weight of being the first Greek feature to make it into an official section of the Cannes Film Festival in more than a decade (since Theo Angelopoulos’ Eternity and a Day won the Palme d’Or in 1998), Dogtooth was greeted with elated responses from both the Greek and foreign press on opening night.
"[The award was] a monumental distinction for Greek cinema in general," said producer Giorgos Tsourgiannis of new Greek company Boo Productions. He added that “the fact that Greek movies can actually get noticed abroad motivates everyone working on film in Greece to do more work, even though we can’t see any change coming in how this work actually gets done here.”
Tsourgiannis was referring to the issues regarding the state’s problematic support (see news). "But it’s good to know our voice can make it across borders," he concluded.