Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dogtooth More Unsettling Than Dentures


When it comes to Academy Award nominations there are certain types of films that you can bank on. Period pieces and war related films tend to stand a better chance at being nominated than a risk-taking dramatic film whose content would shock many. So it is somewhat surprising, and rather refreshing, when the Academy Nominating Committee thinks outside of the box and show some love to a film like Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth.

Nominated in the Best Foreign Language film category, Dogtooth is a bold examination of what lengths some people will go to protect their children from the evils of the world. Three siblings (Aggelikki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis) spend their lives confined within the walls of their parents (Christos Stergiouglou, Michele Valley) estate. Fearful of the horrors that their father (Stergiouglou) has told them of the outside world, the three teenagers are home schooled. Yet their education is not what most would consider proper learning. They learn a new form of vocabulary where words such as “phone” refer to the saltshaker. The parents use these tactics to ensure that their children never wonder about the outside world. The only outsider allowed into the family’s home is Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), a security guard at the father’s factory who is paid to handle the son’s (Passalis) sexual awakening. When Christina steps beyond her bounds, the ramifications threaten to destroy the perfect little world that the parents have worked so hard to create.

Dogtooth’s premise is similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village yet the actual content could not be more different. Dogtooth takes a far more realistic approach and, as a result, more disturbing examination of the issues of isolation and the evils of the world at large. It is fascinating to see the lengths to which the parents go in order to keep their family’s peaceful existence a float. What we would deem as excessive child abuse they would consider a necessary means to ensure their children remain innocent and pure.

The interesting thing is that Lanthimos’ seems to be suggesting that human nature, even in a childlike state, is anything but pure. The fact that the parents hired Christina is proof that they knew that it would be impossible to suppress the urges of a growing male with mere words. The perplexing thing is that they never even consider that women would have the same sexual urges. It is this misstep that leads to cracks in their seamless world.

Dogtooth is the type of film I could see Stanley Kubrick making if he was alive today. Although their situation would be considered strange by most, Lanthimos never treats his characters like freaks. They are merely a loving family who, for the most part, know no other way of life. The performances are outstanding all around. I especially liked Christos Stergiouglou’s work as “Father”. He creates one of the more memorable villains to grace the screen in a long time.

Despite its, at times, shocking content, Dogtooth is far closer to truth than fiction. If you really think about it, how do we know the things we know? Besides school, a large portion of who we are is directly linked to who raised us. The words we know are based on what others have decided on well before we were even born. It is tough to imagine our world any differently yet that is exactly what Lanthimos does. He questions what is worse? Being isolated from the outside world? Or living in a world where you feel the need to isolate your children? Similar to the film’s wonderful ending, this is a question that the viewer will have to answer themselves.


  1. I really wanted a hug when this film ended.

  2. This does sound rather disturbing but I must say I'm intrigued after reading this review...
    I think I might watch it, especially since I don't think I've seen a Greek film before.
    Very well written review!

  3. You know, I heard the name of this film a bunch of times, but never actually bothered to read the description. However, this was a great review, and my attention is finally snagged. Yet another movie I'm going to have to add to the list!

  4. Ugh, it's so brilliant! If there was any justice this film would've gotten into more categories than just Foreign Film, which of course it will lose to something inferior.

  5. @Hatter - I still cannot get this film out of my head. I think some comedies and big budget fluff are in order this long weekend.

    @Jack L – Come to think of it, I cannot recall seeing any other films from Greece either. Hopefully I will fix this in the future.

    @M.Hufstader – I would love to read your thoughts on this film when you get around to seeing it. I am curious to see how others have received this film.

    @Jose – The Canadian in me must support Incendies, which I still need to see, but Dogtooth would be my second choice for the award. I have a feeling that the fact Dogtooth got nominated is praise enough. I do not know if the voters are willing to award such an edgy film any further.

  6. This kind of cinema makes me question authority, and in that bubble immediately after, I end up failing at least three tests.

  7. Ironic that you reviewed this now. It just opened in Montréal this week at an art house theater.

  8. @edgar - I highly recommend you check it out if you can fit it into your schedule.


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