Dogtooth – Giorgos Lanthimos – DVD – A mother and father confine their three children (two girls and a boy), who are aged ambiguously around their late teens/early twenties, to the isolation of their house and garden. Language is reinvented (a ‘pussy’ is a lamp, a ‘zombie’ is a yellow flower), cats are said to be the most dangerous animals in existence, fish are born in swimming pools, aeroplanes are flying creatures that occasionally fall from the air, and bizarre games (with stickers for rewards) are played to create a sense of hierarchy and loyalty. They are told that only when their dogtooth falls out (the canine) are they ready to leave the house and see the world.
The film’s style is comprised of static and clinically executed shots, often framing characters oddly and cutting off limbs or faces from the camera’s field of view. We are never told or shown the parents’ inspiration for the cruel and bizarre imprisonment of their children, which only serves to increase the film’s emotional opacity. Often described as an ‘icy’ or ‘cold’ film, it unflinchingly portrays scenes of violence, blood and perfunctory sex, without emotively preparing the viewer. Thus it becomes closer to a sterilized documentation, surveying the absurd charades of warped behavior with detached and unquestioning objectivity. It has the feel of a black satire, or a twisted fable, both of which refuse to confirm or appease any certain sense of message. Although uncomfortably dark (with scenes of graphic incest and violence), Lanthimos proliferates the film with brilliant absurdist comedy. One of the most vividly bizarre scenes occurs in the family’s celebration of the parents’ wedding anniversary. The brother plucks a classical guitar with a mournful repetitive melody while the two sisters contort in variously awkward dance moves. They start off dancing together like robotic cartoons of Broadway imitation, before one girl gets carried away and busts out some hammer-style, frantic dance tantrum. All the while the parents are sitting without comment at the dinner table, the composition (held beautifully throughout) of garish balloons and lights, enhances the girl’s display of mad, inappropriate and impressively energetic dance, until persuaded to sit down she collapses on the table. Seconds of exhaustion pass before she, just as frantically, begins to devour the pudding in front of her. It is a moment in which words such as ‘bizarre’ and ‘absurd’ fall short of communicating such a crafted glimpse of madness.
It is by no means an entirely pleasurable film to watch; veering towards uncomfortable and strange, and stoically remaining there for the film’s duration. It is a concept and film so uniquely weird that its story, shots and atmosphere linger long after viewing. Lanthimos’ next film, Alps: has been described by the director as more dark and more funny than Dogtooth. It revolves around the idea of a company (‘Alps’) that provides the service of replacing loved ones. If a close relative or lover dies, actors can be hired out to replace the deceased, acting out scenes from their life and, supposedly, helping with the mourning of loss. A decidedly grim and odd idea that suggests Lanthimos may prove to be an excitingly strange director to follow!