January 30, 2011

MOVIES: Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2009/US 2010)

From Greece, here's one of this year's Oscar-nominated foreign films, and it is one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. To the extent that you can classify it at all, it's an erotic dysfunctional-family horror movie. I guess.

A family of five -- they are never named, and it appears that the children don't even have names -- lives on an isolated walled estate. The father is the only one who ever leaves, to go to his factory job. The children have been told that the world outside the walls is unsafe, and that an older brother, apparently exiled for his refusal to follow the family rules, was killed by man's most vicious predator -- a cat. (It seems fairly clear that the older brother is simply part of the legends the parents use to keep their children in line.)

The children know nothing of the outside world. The television is used only for watching home movies, and while they occasionally listen to records, they are told that (for instance) Frank Sinatra is their late grandfather, singing songs of family love and obedience.

The children are in their late teens or early 20s, and the father occasionally brings home Christina, a young co-worker, to tend to his son's sexual needs; it seems not to have occured to anyone that the daughters might have needs of their own. The small hints of the outside world that Christina leaves behind gradually get bigger and bigger, throwing the family's delicate balance out of whack, until the children grow restless, especially the older daughter.

The movie refuses to offer any explanation as to how the family came to live this way, which I think is wise; any explanation we could be given would only seem silly and raise countless loopholes and objections. The cinematography emphasizes the strangeness of the family's existence with lots of static shots, often framed so that heads or limbs are cropped out of the shot.

Be warned that there are a few brief moments of sudden, intense violence; cat lovers may find one scene particularly disturbing.

Dogtooth is not going to appeal to everyone; some people will absolutely loathe it. I found it riveting and utterly compelling, and there are moments that will stick with me for a very long time. It's a bizarre and fascinating movie.

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