Friday, January 07, 2011


Does too much phone lead to high blood pressure?

By Edward Copeland
When non-U.S. independent filmmakers make their films, they go for it, producing some of the most unusual works of cinema you're ever likely to see. When you get down to it, a great many U.S. indies have fallen into as much formula as their big budget studio counterparts. The same can't be said of their foreign peers who produce works as unusual as Dogtooth. They don't always succeed, but damn if they don't swing for the fences in their attempt to try something new and unique.

Directed by Greek filmmaker Giorgos Lanthimos, who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou, Dogtooth nearly defies description, much in the way other idiosyncratic films from Europe have such as 12:08 East of Bucharest or Roy Andersson's sublime You, the Living. Dogtooth doesn't reach the exquisite heights that Andersson's film does, but it's always fascinating to watch and when you've seen as many staid, predictable and familiar films as I have, sometimes fascinating is enough.

I could give the broad brushstrokes of Dogtooth's plot, but the story hardly seems the point. An odd (to say the least) family keeps its children secluded from the outside world in their home/compound. Father gets to leave to go to work, but the son and the daughters stay at home with mom, learning incorrect definitions for words and competing against one another to decide who will pick that evening's entertainment.

Father thinks the son needs to be a little worldlier, so he brings in an outsider to relieve him of his virginity, but this act seems to throw off kilter the balance of a household that wasn't that well balanced in the first place. Before long, there are incestuous games between the sisters, all in the name of prizes, and more general weirdness circulating about than there was before.

On top of this, there are acts of strange and inexplicable violence (characters like to strike others and themselves with various objects for no apparent reason) and just plain bizarre moments. Some of what goes on beyond the residence's walls does seep in though, as in a sequence late in the film when the children start reciting and re-creating dialogue and scenes from famous films such as Jaws, which they do a pseudo-re-creation of in the family swimming pool.

Eventually, Dogtooth starts to wear out its welcome but just as it's about to reach that point, the movie ends. It doesn't add up to much, but Lanthimos and his cast display — I suppose courage is the right word — in even trying to share this quirky tale that they deserve credit for that alone.

I don't think it's one of 2010's best films, but it really should be seen, if only to be believed. One thing is certain: When someone offers to play the keyboard in the future after you've seen Dogtooth, it will have an entirely different meaning for you.

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Nice crack about the keyboard, Copeland!
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