Now on Netflix Film Review: Oscar Nominee DOGTOOTH

By at February 17, 2011 | 11:33 pm | Print

4.5 / 5 stars
by Norm Schrager, Meet In the Lobby

Dogtooth Movie PosterIf you think that Tiger Mother lady is a crazy parent, wait until you see what’s going on in Dogtooth. The family in this Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee from Greece lives in a bubble that’s as insular as it gets. For some 20-odd years, Mom and Dad have been creating a completely false reality for their three children, devising wacky constructs to control the kids’ minds and bodies, and prevent them from ever leaving the family compound.

The details of this totalitarian micro-society are remarkably creative and strangely entertaining. Director/co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos creates an antiseptic world of white clothing, mandated exercise and intimidating behavioral tricks. Words are given incorrect meanings — the trio believes a salt shaker is called a “telephone” — and basic science is rewritten.

The parents’ motivations are unknown, but the whole thing seems like a terribly exhausting exercise for them. They tirelessly keep up with the shockingly elaborate ruse and push back on their adult childrens’ natural curiosities. It’s a level of protection steeped in control rather than love.

For all the discomfort Lanthimos conveys with these stunted, captive people, he unravels his untouched world with a thrill, forcing us to first guess at what’s going on, and then translate the little pieces within. When a jet plane passes overhead, one of the siblings proclaims “If it falls, I get it!” The bizarre reply from the others indicates there’s a history to this idea, we just don’t know what it is. Yet.

When we do figure out thorny details throughout the film, it’s exhilarating, just being part of such a grand cinematic strategy. The absurdities and strict set of social rules all play on the same stage as Bunuel’s finer commentary, inspiring the same kind of intrigue with what’s around the next corner, what might play out in the next scene.

The most dangerous element of tension is the presence of Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), an outsider that the father (the frightening Christos Stergioglou) brings home to provide the male sibling with basic sexual needs. As the younger females swoon over Christina, boring her to death with childlike conversation and simplistic desires, the invitee turns interloper. And all hell breaks loose.

Scene from Oscar nominee DogtoothDogtooth quietly and quickly runs from darkly funny to deathly threatening, successfully eliciting screams in both instances. Lanthimos is skilled at throwing moods around like flash cards on the screen, all without mocking his oddball creation. In one indefinable sequence, the elder sister performs a frenetic dance to please her parents, in which she appears to channel moves we’ve seen before in videos–but that she would never have in her sheltered life. Is Lanthimos saying that pop culture isn’t learned, but is actually bred into our DNA?

Many have considered Dogtooth a scathing, symbolic look at over-parenting, taken here to a ridiculous pole. But, it feels more like an ode to freedom, a statement that the desire to experience a fuller life is as fundamental as eating and breathing.

Dogtooth is currently available on Netflix “Watch Instantly”

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