Tuesday, January 25, 2011


No nomination surprises me more than the best foreign language nomination for the Greek film Dogtooth. The movie is not what one would call an 'Academy friendly' film. But one thing I do find sort of appealing is the fact that there will be many curious people out there who will seek it out and, man, are they in for a shock.

It's a rather twisted film in which a mother and father keep their two kids locked up in compound of sorts [a house in the country] to keep them protected from the outside world. They teach them incorrect words for things, they convince them that anything from the outside is evil including cats - and to satisfy their sexual needs they bring in a guy to have sex with them.

Of course things go horribly wrong.

I read the film as a metaphor: The parents represent the government, the children represent the people and the compound is the country [Greece, perhaps].

I don't think the film works too well except as a black comedy with some shock value. Mainly because I found the kids too old for the part. If the kids were 10 then it would have been more convincing [and more disturbing no doubt]. But they are around 20 and, frankly, the situations that come up seem highly unlikely to me.

One thing I know is that the Academy nomination process for foreign language films is not understood by many. Basically, a very small number of folks nominate the films and apparently Dogtooth was really liked by one person who had influence.

It won't win but it is now on the map. Score one for Kino International and for Greece.


James said...

I agree, a leftfield selection by the academy, but very unlikely to win.

It was an interesting film, well acted and filmed, but slightly laboured its point.

Have to disagree with your statement that it would have been better with younger children. The fact that the kids were in their late teens/early 20s gave them a legitimate desire to take tentative steps into the outside world. Plus the sexual yearnings of the young man would never have worked with younger children, not to mention the abusive relationship between the security officer who sells her body for sex and the eldest daughter.

Great blog by the way!

Matt said...

Hi James
True about the sexual angle - although that world their parents set up was so odd it would not have been too hard to believe.... The real world is more tragic on this point. Sadly enough.

But my issue too was with the kid's curiosity factor about the outside world as well as with things like the mom's phone. I can't imagine it would take until they were about 20 to break into mom's room. Kids are super curious by nature and I found as the movie went along that they would have had to be locked down not to explore more.

But it's a movie with big metaphors in mind. Or so it seems.

Thanks. I need to update the template so people can access older posts.

JeanRZEJ said...

Lanthimos seems to point to two initial sources for his inspiration: An idea of a future where families are outlawed and people go to great lengths to maintain them in secret, and a discovery of very strong reactions from his friends, who were parents, to ideas about parenthood - not necessarily in that order (I don't remember the exact order).

You can see the remnants of these ideas, since it is certainly a provocative examination of parenting taken to its extremes, where the girl is not allowed to know the location of the house. Inside the film there is no indication that this is because a family is illegal, it could very well just be one of his quirks, but it makes the most sense from that point of view. The ambiguity doesn't hurt, and it certainly shifts the focus away from the greater picture to the goings on in the house, but for those struggling with justifying the parents' actions it's certainly something to 'ground it' in 'reality'. Not that I would ever encourage such a thing. I think the whole situation is made odd and bizarre for good reason. There is a certain mix between de-humanizing the characters, in order to distance the audience and thus create a comic relationship between the two (initially), and the increasing prevalence of un-embellished violence which contradicts that initial comedic tone. In conjunction with the arrival of outside violent media, the immediacy of the violence upon my own experience made the point about the effects of violence much more clearly than if the violence had been essentially trapped in the film by being tied, by way of dramatic empathy, to the characters. This all works to tighten the tone of the film from the initially comic into the odd and unsettling middle area of the tragicomic which I am so fascinated with, the precarious balance between the emotional distance that allows us to laugh at fictionalized violence and zaniness like in screwball comedy and the emotional closeness achieved through serious drama. I think it's a great method of provoking thought on the subjects portrayed, such as parenting and violence, without making them too comic to address seriously or too emotional to address clearly.

As for treating it as a metaphor - it is not really a metaphor, since it portrays a society (family) whose behavior is dictated by a leadership (father) which controls aspects of education, media, and behavior without any other force superseding it. Because the family unit exists completely independent of their government the father IS a government, he's not merely a metaphor for one. The family may be a microcosm for the society at large, but there's no strict distinction between their society and a larger society, so it's not really a metaphor. That being said, I think the familial aspects take priority in the film over the sociological aspects - which is not to say that the situation is not presented initially as a farce, because I think that is it, but I think the idea closes the distance between farce and drama by the end which strips the light comedy of a farce away and leaves only the troubling ambivalence of a tragicomedy. I don't know that a 'realistic drama' could raise these sorts of questions, because each parental decision would be weighed and measured individually and the bigger picture would be lost. In this film it is guaranteed that every decision is the worst possible and the behaviors are not realistic, and yet those elements that manage to creep across those distancing effects are the ones which are all the more interesting due to the emotional distance they travel. That's my appraisal of the film's 'unreality', anyway.

Matt said...

Well your reading of the film is far more indepth than mine. And the director's statements definitely take a precedent.

Suffice it to say I had not seen the movie for a while but the metaphor idea stuck with me. I would say metaphors don't usually cover all aspects of a film's 'reality'. So it is more my reading, which I suppose is almost as legit as most if carried through. I don't think I developed the idea much. Just a shading of some kind.

I'll look forward to other films by the filmmaker and maybe then we can find a pattern.

Persona said...

I personally view the film also as a metaphor, but I think it is a metaphor about a country on Greece's border, Albania. It took a little thinking, as I initially thought the film was a straight story along family lines. Parents, control, family values, that kind of thing. But I've been to Albania twice and so much of this story fits.

I am no history major, but the main points regarding Albania from WWII through 1992 in relation to Dogtooth are as such: a dictator referred to by the residents as "daddy," someone they trusted, but who sealed off their borders and erected thousands of bomb shelter bunkers all over the land. He withheld information from the people and lied to them about the outside world, claiming there was always danger across the border, creating a sense of fear of the unknown. Televisions and transportation were not allowed. He did all this while somehow creating a sense of national pride, a trust in him, even to the time of his death. The first thing many Albanians bought in the years following Hoxha's death was a satellite dish to receive television from countries outside of their border -- I saw countless examples of Albanians with dishes outside their house, and no food inside the home. The people were saddened and felt tricked and deceived when they finally realized the truth about the lands on the other side of their border -- that they had trusted this man Hoxha and his misinformation.

I'm sure I've simplified some of that, but it is a general overview.

Subjective reading? Maybe so. But Albania borders Greece, has a tied hundreds-of-years history with Greece (or perhaps thousands), and since the lottery and pyramid schemes of the 90s, Greece has been a huge place for the immigration of Albanians, many of whom speak Greek (it is a government recognized minority language in Albania).

It's another reading, it's different I know, but I can't seem to shake it. It fits, but it'd be like an American film talking about Canadian history and social issues.