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With: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou, Alexander Voulgaris
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Greek, with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 05/18/2009

Dogtooth (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Leaving Home

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth has been turning up on many ten-best lists for 2010, perhaps because it feels like an original work. Or perhaps it's because the movie created something of a stir at various film festivals, causing patrons to walk out in droves. Maybe critics feel like coming to the little film's rescue. As for me, the movie didn't exactly offend me, but I did find it a little on the deliberately provocative side, a little "weird for weird's sake." I don't mind it when filmmakers attempt to be weird on a dreamlike, gut level, but when they have to concentrate and plan to be weird, the effect just isn't the same.

However, Dogtooth has some definite surprises in it, and it does a terrific job of unfolding the story at an interesting and surprising pace so that nothing is over-explained. A woman is blindfolded and brought to a house, situated behind a high, gated fence. Inside, she has rather impersonal sex with a young man, and afterward, the woman stays around to talk to the man's two grown sisters. This tiny conversation is enough to upset the entire balance that existed beforehand. See, these three grown children are part of a kind of experiment. Their parents have kept them deliberately shielded from the world and all its outside influences. There are no movies, comic books, music, or even brand names allowed in the house. (The father scrubs labels off of the groceries before bringing them inside.)

The children have learned weird ways of coping, and they have learned the wrong meanings of words like "phone" to protect them further; to them, a "phone" is a saltshaker. But the woman -- brought to satisfy the son's sexual urges -- plants the seeds of materialism and sex in the children's heads, and this leads to a weird, bloody conclusion. The Greek-born director Lanthimos films this as you might expect him to: totally deadpan, widescreen, with lots of still shots, dead spaces and strange cuts.

I saw another movie recently, also distributed by Kino, called Home (2009), that had some of this same dynamic. Home was also based on a weird situation around a family and a house, but it wasn't presented as weirdness; it was more along the lines of something that could actually happen. This simple shift in tone allowed the characters to behave like something closer to life, which in turn allowed them to become more human and more touching to the viewer. The Dogtooth characters are totally removed from reality, and they're like ants in a glass ant farm; they're curious and funny and interesting for a while, and perhaps even shocking and appalling, but they don't really resonate.

Kino released a DVD edition in January, complete with an interview with the director, deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and trailers. But after the movie received an unexpected Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film (it lost to the tepid In a Better World), it received the Blu-Ray treatment. The extras are the same, but of course we now have vastly improved picture and sound. In 2019, Kino Lorber released an updated Blu-ray with DTS 2.0 and 5.1 sound mixes. It includes all of the above extras, plus an audio commentary with stars Angeliki Papoulia and Christos Passalis, and director Lanthimos in conversation with Kent Jones (courtesy of Film at Lincoln Center).

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