8/10 (Very Good — heed the various caveats…)
2010, up for a best Foreign Film Oscar (Greece)
Giorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009) is probably the strangest film ever nominated for an Oscar. The film treads a fine line between black comedy and excruciatingly/twisted dark drama. I found myself drawn into its bizarre otherworldly spectacle — a world behind gates, inhabited by humans who have no idea what it is to be human, a family manipulated and controlled by a logic so alien, so unexplainable, we wait expecting something to hold on to. Lanthimos dashes our simplistic hopes, leaving us gasping for air, the image of the family car, black screen, blood, a tooth in the sink…
Brief Plot Summary
Two unnamed sisters in their late teens or early 20s, and brother live in a compound somewhere in Greece. Their mother, a voluntary captive, assists the father — the only family member who leaves the compound — in executing the “raising” the children.
The film opens with a tape recorder teaching them different meanings for everyday words. ‘Small yellow flowers’ are zombies, the ‘sea’ is the large leather chair in the living room, the ‘telephone’ is the salt shaker.
Soon we discover that the children believe that they have another brother who lives outside of the compound in a world they are told is populated by man killing cats (when a small cat ventures into the compound it is promptly killed by the brother).
The lengths the parents go to controlling their children are beyond logic — the mother at one point tells them that she will soon give birth to twins and a dog. And, if the two sisters don’t want someone sharing their rooms then they most behave… And if they do she won’t have the twins but the dog is non-negotiable.
Frank Sinatra records are the voice of their grandfather, airplanes are toys, the siblings always seem close to committing either incest or fratricide…
The first half the the movie surrounds a woman who works at the father’s factory brought in to satiate the needs of the brother… Sex is mechanical, passionless, forced… Christina, the only named character in the film soon trades movies for various favors — one of the daughters, suddenly exposed to a new world, a new vocabulary, reenacts scenes from Rocky, Jaws, Footloose…
And of course, one can only leave the house when the dogtooth falls out…
Despite the very loose nature of the plot, I found myself captivated in expectation of what strange occurrence would happen next. The final sequence is executed to perfection. The acting is perfect for the film — three horrifically sheltered siblings who have no idea how to interact with each other — two controlling parents whose emotions, thoughts, and reasons always remain out of reach.
The film contains shocking/realistic violence and explicit nudity (solid R rating). It is not for the faint-hearted. That said, the cinematic experience is truly amazing and original.
For the adventurous only — no one can now say that the Oscars tread only the established/predictable/safe path… This is by far one of the most unusual films I’ve ever seem. I’m definitely looking forward to Lanthimos’ next film.
Highly recommended for the open-minded cinephile.