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Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

April 28, 2010

This is more like it. Dogtooth is a dark, strange and bleakly funny film by Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos. Somewhere in the countryside, live a couple and their adult children who have been isolated within the family compound for their entire lives, and kept in a strange perpetual childhood. They spend their days playing odd games in pursuit of stickers, and hoping that an aeroplane will fall in their garden.

The opening scene shows the three children (who appear not to have names, or at least are never referred to by them) learning new vocabulary via a tape recorder; any words they may have picked up hinting at a world beyond the walls of their grounds are given new meanings. Hence “the sea” is a type of leather chair, and “telephone” means salt shaker. The outside world cannot be kept at bay forever, though.

The catalyst for the unwelcome intrusion of reality is Christina, a security guard from the factory at which the father of the family works to finance his ‘project’. Brought in to  relieve the son of his sexual urges, she upsets the precarious balance of the household and risks the unravelling of the carefully woven fabric of lies.

The film is in turns hilariously funny, shocking, unnerving and squirm-inducing, yet it still manages to maintain a very consistent tone throughout. Much of this is down to the excellent performances, especially from the actors playing the children (Aggeliki Papoulis, Mary Tsoni and Hristos Passalis), who hit just the right level of other-worldly detachedness. It is also beautifully shot; the austere, methodical compositions are like a sun-dappled version of Michael Haneke. It is by no means comfortable viewing, but this highly original film is probably the best I’ve seen so far this year. I sat in the cinema in silence for several minutes after it ended, along with the rest of the audience.

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