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Greece 2009
Directed by
Yorgos Lanthimos
95 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Yorgos Lanthimos’s film won the 2009 Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes and a quick check on the internet will reveal a host of 4 and 5 star valuations. Whilst this is a matter of taste, that it is a nominee for the Best Foreign Film at the 2011 Oscars is quite extraordinary as it is an unapologetically provocative film that in the best avant-gardist tradition self-consciously affronts mainstream values.

The story concerns a well-to-do industrialist and his wife who keep their three adult children physically and psychologically imprisoned in the family home. The brother and two sisters, known only as son, elder daughter and younger daughter, have never seen the outside world which the parents tell them is populated by voracious cats. They have taught the children who also don’t realize that the small planes they see in the sky are in fact really big planes a long way away, the incorrect meaning of words . The father brings home a female security guard from his factory to have sex with the son and she introduces the sisters to cunnilingus. Why any of this goes on is not explained and there is no need to know. The absurd grotesqueness of it all is evidently sufficient..

There’s no denying that this is a startlingly novel concept and that technically it is very well-realized (the violence is disturbingly realistic) by all concerned, the actors in particular doing Lanthimos proud. But 4 and 5 stars? I’m not so sure. That implies that it speaks to some fundamental values or sheds some light on the human condition but Dogtooth is as hermetically sealed as its subjects. Ever since it was demonstrated that Picasso was right and women really do have two eyes on one side of their head, critics have been embracing assaults on bourgeois standards with gusto, each keen to champion the next artistic transgression. Dogtooth certainly qualifies in this respect. But film is not painting.

Where my issue with the film arises is the suspicion that as criticism is essentially a sadistic act, this film has been essentially (and unconsciously) lavishly praised by critics because it speaks to that sensibility. What more there is to be seen in it, however, remains a mystery. Perhaps in years to come it will be viewed as a symptom of desperate times, or perhaps it may not be viewed at all but rather forgotten as a fashionable indulgence. 

DVD Extras: Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailer.

Available from: Madman




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