Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Giorgos Lanthimos‘s third feature-length film, Dogtooth (Kynodontas, 2009), which is the kind of movie that makes one want to immediately write something about it.
And here’s an English-language trailer:
So what to write about it?
1. It’s very bold. The cinematography is superb, consistently creating asymmetrical compositions, cropping heads out of the frame, going blurry, seeking out lens flares, and not being afraid to simply look at things for long periods of time. (The film is fairly studious, nowhere near as frenetic as the English-language trailer implies. Such is the way with trailers.)
2. The film’s structure is fairly abrupt—a succession of shots and scenes that slowly reveal its world to the audience, rather than forming a strong narrative. This works very well, because the film’s world is fascinating.
3. Gradually, a small narrative works its way in, and the film shows some real courage and ingenuity in building to a powerful, quease-inducing conclusion.
4. It’s rather violent and disturbing (although not, thank God, in a torture porn kind of way). That willingness to look includes a willingness to stare at some violent and disturbing events. But I thought all the violence a logical outgrowth of the conditions of the film.
5. Speaking of which, Dogtooth is extremely absurd. Its concept is that two parents have raised their three children in total captivity, denying them access to or knowledge of the outside world—and then going even further, mis-educating them as to the small estate that they inhabit. (A salt shaker is a telephone, the chair in the living room is the sea, etc.)
6. It understands that ample doses of sex and nudity will help sell an art film. (I’m not faulting it for this!)
Mind you, I don’t think Dogtooth is as good as Innocence (which I consider one of the greatest films of the past decade), but it’s still pretty marvy.
8. Some will say it begs comparison with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004). I suppose that’s true. I even kind of like that movie, mainly for perverse reasons. …Well, an evening’s lineup of films is suggesting itself.
9. Other filmmakers I thought of while watching Dogtooth:
Tsai Ming-Liang, for its occasionally static approach and scenes of broad comedy:
Michelangelo Antonioni, for its languid pace, and startling images of harsh landscapes:
Lucretia Martel, for its bold close-ups, and claustrophobic approach to the horrors of living in such close confines with one’s family:
Well, that’s excellent company to be in!
10. It also reminded me throughout of Jeff Wall’s photography:
I’m not claiming that Lanthimos was trying to recreate those famous Wall images, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was thinking consciously about Wall. …Well, that didn’t make me like Dogtooth all any less!
11. Those who enjoy interpreting art metaphorically will find much to mine here (see, for instance, the last line of Ebert’s review). That said, the film, refreshingly, doesn’t insist on any particular interpretation. It simply presents itself. This is correct; it’s very complete in itself.
12. It’s extremely good.