When I saw Alps last spring at the San Francisco International Film Festival, it amused but perplexed me, and I gave it a positive but lukewarm B. Several people then told me that I needed to see Giorgos Lanthimos’ previous film, Dogtooth.

Last night, I saw Dogtooth, and they were right. It had the strange, dark, downplayed humor of Alps, but it also made sense. This story of a family so loving its criminal was an experience to savor.

By the way, I streamed Dogtooth off HuluPlus. You probably already know that Hulu streams almost the entire Criterion Collection. But they also offer excellent films from Miramax and Kino–the company presenting Dogtooth to American audiences.

But back to the picture:

Here we have the perfect, upper-middleclass nuclear family: a dad who’s a successful executive, a stay-at-home mom, and three home-schooled teenagers. imageAnd when I say "stay-at-home mom," I mean it. She hasn’t left the property in years. As far as I could tell, the kids have never left. Their parents brazenly lie to them, scaring them with dangers of the outside world and making up fake definitions for problematic words. When the son, at the dinner table, asks his mom to "Please pass the phone," she gives him the salt and he accepts it.

But the son and two daughters have reached an age where they need another kind of companionship. By the time we meet the family, they’ve found a solution for the boy. A young woman–a security guard in the dad’s company–visits on a regular basis to have sex with the son. She does it not for love or desire, but for cash, although she’s developed a moderate friendship with his two sisters. But even that becomes sexual in a weird, suppressed way.

Dogtooth contains several sex scenes, some nearly as explicit as hardcore pornography, and it occasionally even slips across that line. There’s one inarguably hardcore shot–apparently from a real porn flick–briefly visible on television, and I suspect that one sex scene between main characters was for real. Not that they looked like they were having fun. Lanthimos films sex as if it’s a boring and somewhat annoying chore. There’s nothing remotely erotic in Dogtooth.

Nor should there be. These people are emotionally stunted, and incapable of real pleasure or excitement. This is especially true with the oldest daughter (no one in the family has a name). She brims with violent feelings that sometimes come out in violent actions. In an early scene, she cuts body parts off one of her dolls while screaming in mock terror and pain. Later, she will do much worse.

Lanthimos shot and cut Dogtooth in a style so plain and matter-of-fact that it becomes avant-garde. The camera looks straight on, seldom or never moving, with few cuts. People’s faces are frequently out of the shot. The actors play their parts in a reserved, almost deadpan way. As any Buster Keaton fan knows, properly-done deadpan delivery makes the gags funnier.

And make no mistake about it: Despite some horrifying outbursts of violence, Dogtooth will make you laugh, even when the cold darkness of its satire sears your bones in the terror of what some parents will do out of what they think is love.

Which brings up another issue: Are Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou going after more than just overly-protective parents? I think so. As with Alps, I suspect that there’s a political agenda to this family story. These parents could represent a totalitarian government, providing their children (the citizens?) with everything they need except freedom and the truth.

I’m giving Dogtooth an A.

3 thoughts on “Dogtooth

  1. I can not believe you gave Dogtooth an A…..that film needs its teeth pulled. It was good for maybe the first 30 minutes then it totally tanked from there. And I mean tanked. I was waiting for it to be over for the last 30+ minutes. It was painful to watch because the story line was not even likeable in the least (I do like other movies with non-likeable storylines), but this film takes the cake. My personal grade of a D-.. Anyone reading this, please save yourself the time and trouble from wasting your 2 hours of watching this picture. I see a lot of independent pictures at the Landmark, Lumiere (what was), Bridge and Clay etc….thankfully, I did not pay for this film and was on netflix. And yes I watched it to the end as I kept waiting for a twist to happen in the film and the film just gets uglier and uglier.

  2. This was one of the five films nominated for the foreign language Oscar the year of ita telease and to thia day I cannot fathom why. It was far beneath the level of the four other nominees and a few other countries’ official submissions for the category and those in the immediate years and a couple since in my opinion. Not only did I not laugh I cringed: some of the sex and violence scenes are unbearable, the ending abrupt, none of the characters likable, no background given for how or why the family was in its current state, nothing explained how the family could exoat in au g virtual isolation, etc.

    1. Such virtual isolation (sorry, phone closed the site prematurely). And no explanation of why only the father looked Greek, with the children looking Nordic.

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