By the time I had an opportunity to see Yorgos Lanthimos’ second feature Dogtooth, it was already riding a wave of critical adoration, having played to rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival and even scooping Un Certain Regard along the way. I’d made a conscious effort to not pick up any details about the film outside of the unavoidable talk of it as the ‘strange Greek family drama’. Therefore, despite the late hour I settled in to the screening with a mix of high expectations and little knowledge of what lay ahead. I believe that Dogtooth is a film that plays strongly from a cold first viewing so I’ll restrict this description to the bare bones:
A married couple live on the outskirts of town in a house and large garden separated from the world by a tall fence with their three adult children; two girls and a boy. The parents have kept the children ignorant of life in the outside world and have created strict rules and rituals which keep them within the confines of the property and obedient. This all changes when an outsider is introduced into the mix and new ideas begin to lead the children astray.
That may make it sound ripe for some kind of knock off family horror, but Dogtooth is much more art film than shocker. Although that isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain an underlying sense of malice, particularly in the father character, excellently played with a silent menace by acting veteran Christos Stergioglou. Lanthimos has made it clear that even in the early script stages, he was well aware that Dogtooth’s subtext would speak of the control of information and how that control can shape the lives and perceptions of those on the receiving end.
Whilst Dogtooth can certainly be read to imply issues of state or media control in our lives, much of the joy comes from the ways in which the father and mother (Michelle Valley) attempt to maintain control and ignorance within the house itself. Words are substituted, siblings invented and even cats demonised to preserve the artifice of their literal ‘safe house’.
Having watched Dogtooth for a second and soon to be tenth time (I’m positive this is my film of 2010), I’m struck not only with the solid assurity of the storytelling, free as it is from non-diegetic music and, although largely shot in the single house location by Thimios Bakatakis, never claustrophobic or uninteresting – but also by the attention to the details of the world. For instance; the children’s language has this formal quality, free from slang and over-abbreviations and also consider if you will just how you’d dance if you’d only ever had your parents’ moves as a basis to model on?
My only regret with the DVD/BluRay release of Dogtooth is the lack of extras which could have helped elucidated the process. Not to worry though, that’s where DN’s got your back with our interview with Yorgos Lanthimos.
Dogtooth is released on DVD & Blu-ray today.