'Dogtooth' Explores Unique Dynamic of a Greek Family | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

'Dogtooth' Explores Unique Dynamic of a Greek Family

Dogtooth is complex – and creepy. It involves the very unique dynamics of a Greek family. It screens at the Siskel's European Union Film Fest. For WBEZ, film critic Jonathan Miller has this review.

Mar. 19 and 22 at 8:15 p.m.
Gene Siskel Film Center

This family consists of a father, evidently a successful industrialist, a stay at home mom and three teenage children, two girls and a boy. Normality ends there. The father and mother have conspired to protect their brood from the world, telling the children that outside the gates of their manicured estate danger, and likely death, awaits them.

The control exerted over the three children is physical, psychological and linguistic. The film opens with a language lesson, presumably a component of their home schooling. From a tape recording they learn that a sea is a leather armchair with wooden arms, a motorway is a very strong wind, an excursion is a strong material, a carbine is a beautiful white bird.

The teens are pitted against one another, encouraged to be competitive. Their father goads them on, urging them to do their best in such useful and formative activities as seeing who can hold their breath under water the longest. The prize? A sticker and the satisfaction of being in favor with their parents.

In the interest of teaching him to be a man, father provides his son with a sexual partner, a security guard from his factory. Blindfolded, she rides to the unspecified location of the family's home, where she and the young man engage in sex as if they were mindless puppets, aware of how to move, but not capable of any feeling. That no attention is paid to the sexuality of the daughters is telling, and consequential.

The need to educate a child contradicts the impulse to protect him or her from a threatening world. Stretching the terms of this paradox to extremes produces the premise of Yorgos Lanthimos's film. But that doesn't mean Dogtooth slips reality's leash. Who hasn't felt at times that family life boils down to: Rules, rules, rules! Why? Because, just because.

As the teenagers in Dogtooth show, growing up can be a struggle to find a way to wiggle free of constraints, to find gaps in the system of surveillance, to create a domain where one can breathe the fresh air of autonomy and independence.

As events progress, evidence emerges that an older brother managed to leave the family compound. (is there another clip we could use?) But keeping a prisoner from breaking out of a prison might not be as important as keeping the outside world from breaking into it. Lanthimos employs his barbed-wire wit when the security guard punctures the security of this fantastical womblike wonderland.

When the boy discovers a kitty cat has made its way inside the walls of the estate, the parents seize the opportunity. Father shreds his clothing and smears himself with stage blood before announcing that cats are evil, ferocious beasts that feed on the flesh of children. One was responsible for the death of their brother, who made the mistake of venturing out into the world prematurely. They all must be prepared lest one of the creatures attack: so the family practices barking like dogs.

A desperate energy — erotic, infantile, aimless— roils beneath the surface of the children's compliance. The stress verges on eruption in a klutzy, unskilled and desultory dance performance that they stage to celebrate their parent's anniversary.

We are all held by the enduring, and at times crippling, knotted cords of family relations. Yet th drive to differentiate, to cut the cord, cannot be suppressed. This problem belongs not solely to the curious household of Dogtooth.

Dogtooth's deeply interwoven strata of images and allusions defy ready interpretation. The matter-of-fact tone Lanthimos employs to unfold a wholly bizarre, rule-bound world endows Dogtooth with an intriguing and subversive allure. Humor and horror blend seamlessly in its portrayal of love distorted into an asphyxiating embrace, education as the perpetuation of ignorance, and escape as an inevitable entombment. Henceforth, any reference to mordant wit should call to mind Dogtooth.

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