This is a column where I view then briefly review films that have been on my to-see list. Here are my thoughts.
(Year of release: 2009)
Rule number one of international cinema:
Flaunt your accolades so that the West will buy in. Rule number one of good cinema: don’t put said accolades at the beginning of the picture, as it’s essentially telling me that I’m stupid if I didn’t like the film. That’s why Dogtooth didn’t begin well for me; ‘Winner of Prix Un Certain Regard’ precredits- I don’t fucking care. That, and the first fiver ten or so minutes of the film come across as pretentious, meaningless arty bullshit. As I’m English, I have a strong aversion to any film that doesn’t drop hints about the plot, or give me clearly defined character sketches. Grrrr. But we shall see if my anglian brain can broaden its horizons.
In Dogtooth, three teenagers / early tweens are seemingly imprisoned in their home, by a caring but tough father and doteful mother. Together, they create a world inside the tall garden fence where the children can live unknowing of the ‘dangerous’ world outside. The parents lies are endlessly inventful, and consistently hilarious – a ‘telephone’ is actually just the salt shaker, a ‘zombie’ is a small yellow flower found in the garden. These words are indicative of a world outside their own, given to mundane items. So what happens when something seemingly unexplainable happens, like an aeroplane flying overhead? Well, once it’s flown by, drop a toy aeroplane in the garden and tell the kids it dropped out of the sky.
It’s genius little moments like this that litter Dogtooth, and as it goes on it all builds up, subtely, into a framework in your mind where you can begin to piece it all together (including the initially meaningless beginning scenes). Even then, consequences of important actions are left unknown / unshown, motives are only extremely briefly hinted at; but it doesn’t matter. Before you know it, you’re totally engrossed in the world the ‘children’ find themselves in, and the forces equally attracting them and repelling them from the outside world – sexuality plays a big role. Hey, it’s world cinema, okay? There’s got to be some sex somewhere.
Essentially a coming-of-age tale, Dogtooth‘s a highly original brushstroke on a canvas covered with different genres. It could easily have come across tonally as a sixties-esque paranoid thriller – but it’s Yorgos Lanthimos‘s direction that reels it in, and keeps the film playing out on its own unique terms. I guess you can have that Prix Un Certain Whatever, after all.