March 10, 2011

#122: Dogtooth (7/10)

Dogtooth is a film that most casual movie watchers will not be able to stand. Even though I really enjoyed it, it is almost impossible to recommend. It is probably the first Greek film I've ever seen. It is shot in an art-house style reminiscent of Michael Haneke. There is lot of odd focusing and framing that will likely turn people off.  It is slow paced with almost no plot.  The characters speak with an unemotional, almost robotic style. It is entirely in a foreign language making it even more difficult to connect with the film.  It would seem to have a lot working against it, but it still resonated with me. More than any other film I have watched in the last several months, Dogtooth prompted me to seek out reviews, and demanded that I think about it further.  While it might not be the easiest film to watch, Dogtooth is one that will probably stick with you for a while.

I knew almost nothing going in. As with most films, this is the best way to approach Dogtooth.  It's distant feel and odd styling was confusing at first, but figuring out what's going on is part of the "fun". It has no expository dialog to give you a frame of reference. You go in blind and it forces you to build the circumstances of this family as you go.  It would be a shame to ruin that for anybody, but you can't really write about a movie without at least discussing the premise.

Dogtooth is set in the fenced-in compound of an affluent Greek family.  There is a mother, a father, and elder son, and his two younger sisters.  The "kids" are fairly close in age, somewhere in their early 20's and upper teens.  The youngest daughter is no less than 15, the boy no older than 23. No character is called by name, nor does it seem like they even have names. The father is the only one who ever goes outside of the fence that surrounds the house and yard.  The children know nothing of the outside world.  They have been raised in
confinement their entire lives. Subjected to years of psychological abuse, the kids of no idea what lies beyond those fences. This movie is very sad, while at the same time it is a little humorous. I am not sure if I would have reacted the same way if the kids were younger. You definitely think about what things would have been like in the household when they were young children and adolescents.  That thought is not so humorous, and would have made for a movie that is much more tragic. In its form, the age of the kids adds a little bit of levity to a very grim situation.

These kids are basically adults. Old enough to live on their own. Yet, they seem to have the mental maturity of preteens. Their mental development seems to be frozen in a state of innocence, and ignorance imposed by their parents (father) to presumably protect them from the outside world. It is like they have taken homeschooling to an extreme that even the craziest of homeschool parents wouldn't feel okay with. The ideas explored are interesting, profound, and extremely sad at the same time. There are several possible ways we could interpret the motivations of the father, but I really feel he was psychotic. His motivations are eluded to, but ultimately irrelevant. We are allowed to observe several weeks in the life of an extremely sick psychological experiment. The way the film is shot definitely makes us feel as if we are silently observing this family without their knowledge. The voyeuristic nature of it added to the overall bizarre experience.

I went in not knowing what to expect. I was a little taken aback by what I saw, but I wouldn't say it was shocking.  I quickly settled into my observation booth and looked upon this sick family with interest. If anything, I wanted the film to throw more sick and twisted stuff at me. I wanted things to get real crazy. A few times I thought it was going to go there. It never did, despite an unsettling bit of incest. It might reflect poorly upon me, but I wanted a lot more crazy weird stuff. The restraint was almost frustrating, which could have very well been the point. There were times down the stretch that Dogtooth started to lose me, but it was always able to bring me back by appealing to the darker side of human nature. The ending has a few scenes that are difficult to watch. The one penultimate scene in front of the mirror might have inspired my most visceral reaction in a long time.

There are a lot of interesting things to consider. When I think about it too much I start to notice that the plot may be a bit thread barren at times. Some of the motivations and actions didn't always make sense.  I did enjoy how they introduced some "universal" pop culture into the film, and how that outside influence pushed our character to the conclusion.  Dogtooth had an interesting way of showing rebellion against oppression, while still staying within the constraints set forth by the oppressor.  It makes you wonder why the father set certain "rules" in the first place, but the speculation about how that all may have come about could be endless.

All in all I am very happy that I watched Dogtooth. It is one of those films where people watch it once and say they could never sit through that again.  I am thinking about watching it one more time. I think there is more to be gleaned from a second viewing.  I will give it a few weeks and see how I feel.  Maybe I will have a bunch of friends over for a party and we can fire it up. If you have Netflix instant I think it is worth seeing. You probably won't like it, but don't blame me; you are the one that is too close-minded to appreciate its genius.

In closing, I give Dogtooth 7 hand-weights out of a possible 10.

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