Dogtooth: A Leash on Life

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 9, 2011

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“Mom, can you pass me the phone, please,” asks a young woman (Mary Tsoni) over dinner. Her mother (Michele Valley) hands her the salt shaker. What on earth is going on in the Greek bugfuck Dogtooth? As nearly as we can tell, this: Three kids, all in their early 20s and evidently missing names, never leave a massive, remote estate. There’s a strong possibility they never have. They don’t have jobs or go to school. What little education they receive is from vocab tapes made by their mother, who feeds them false definitions for things they should never know: a sea is a “large chair;” pussy means “a big lamp.” Father (Christos Stergioglou), who holds a factory job, tells them that their AWOL other brother was mauled by the world’s most dangerous animal: the cat. Time is passed playing odd endurance games, such as huffing in ether and seeing who wakes up first.

Fêted at Cannes and recently (and justly) nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Dogtooth is already on DVD and Netflix Instant, having unfairly tanked during a limited release. Frankly, even seeing it on a stamp-sized .avi file would suffice, long as it’s seen. Not simply a brilliant premise fully explored and exploited, Dogtooth is a masterpiece of unease. Plunged into an alien world in media res, and never spoon-fed expository dialogue, we’re trusted to solve the puzzle through action. Director Yorgos Lanthimos heightens an already discomforting experience through framing that calls attention to what’s not on-screen as much as what is: heads are sometimes cut off; the camera hits its subjects at odd angles; shots are held several beats too long.

Clinical and darkly funny, Dogtooth calmly and approvingly observes as this carefully controlled environment erodes through a holy trilogy of sex, the free market and Hollywood movies. (As in Son of Rambow, a sheltered kid’s mind is rewired by the cinema of Sylvester Stallone.) Through this extreme example, we’re shown the perils of living with blinders, be the enablers overprotective parents, overprotective nation-states or Glenn Beck. If Biutiful nabs its Oscar, it will be another reason to hate that piece of shit.

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