It’s pretty amazing to me that Greece’s Dogtooth is nominated for best foreign language film since that goldie named Oscar seems to be only comfortable with English speaking traditional narrative films. Why else would he have such convoluted policies against foreign language and documentary films? On top of that, Dogtooth is neither epic, historical, sweeping, lengthy, somber, a period piece, about the holocaust, WW part ii, or any wars as far as i can tell, after having seen it 1 ½ times.
Dogtooth (based on the movie Dogtooth nominated by the academy) is actually a black comedy about a family who home-schools their three kids (a firstborn son, and two younger daughters, who are all now college age)–“black” as in dark subject matters, not African-American comedians dressed up as (obese) women, or some kind of emotional porn for liberals to feel good or connected to minorities and poor people. But enough about their precious Miss Daisy Monster’s Crash.
Dogtooth (based on the movie Dogtooth nominated by the academy) is actually about a family in Greece with a dad, a mom, and three home-schooled teenagers, your typical
nucular nuclear family. But right in the opening scene, we sense something’s off. The three kids are in the bathroom learning their words of the day from a sound recording by their parents. The word definitions presented are purposely wrong, much like most of the information they get. Only dad, who owns or manages a factory, is able to leave the house while the mom and the kids stay at the estate at all time. But don’t worry, dad brings a female security guard from his factory every once in a while to relieve his son’s… desire, (which he doesn’t appear to have much of). No such relief for the daughters though. There’s also a family dog in training and an imagined brother on the outside. The parents also tell them that cats are large man-eating beasts, mom maybe able to bring her pregnancy sooner with twins and about the above mentioned dog. Oh, and the word “pussy” means big light, and “zombie” means yellow flower.
The dad character is the only one who’s not cut off from the outside world. When they watch TV, they watch videos of home movies. Dad puts on Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon and tells the family that it’s their grandfather. Things get more complicated when the female security guard leaves her rented VHS Hollywood movies in the house, leading to riotous consequences.
I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this is one of those movies where the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy it. What makes it work so well is that instead of having to stop and explain everything, it goes on as if you know what’s been happening all along. There aren’t really any plot twists at the end that explain everything. In fact, after watching it 1 ½ times, it seems to raise more questions after the second partial viewing than it did having seen it once. For example, I still don’t quite get the parents’ headphones during bedtime activities or the whole “fishes in the pool” thing.
The best thing about the movie is that the screenplay does not have a single specific target. It also doesn’t feel the need to explain every single reference in the movie as if its audience has never seen a movie before. Depending on who/where you are, you’ll take different things from it. On the surface it seems to be about the extremes of homeschooling, parenting, education systems, or nurture vs. nature. But I don’t think that’s all. To me, it may be an allegory of the dangers of isolationist ideologies, be it within countries, religions (organized, sects, cults, Scientology) or states. The harms of constant misinformation. The Tea Party. The exclusive Fox News-watchers. The Palinists. The people who say “nucular” instead of nuclear. The people who shoot their friends’ faces/off while hunting. The birth policies of China. The North Korean regime. There is a lot of misinformation out there and many lies that we have to put up with folks (Socialists! Born in Kenya! Death tax! Death panel! Next thing you know men will start marrying animals!). And, scariest of all, there are “people” out there believing this misinformation.
The clever premise with its sunny and bright background and cinematography make the film way more interesting than the similar The Village or any of those suburb-people-are-dysfunctional/fucked-up-shit happens-beneath-the-seemingly-normal-suburb Oscar baiting movies we usually get. It reminds me more of David O Russell’s debut Spanking the Monkey with a hint of Sofia Coppola. It’s more fascinating than any of Sam Mendes’ movies–a more entertaining Harmony Korine movie except you won’t feel bored or feel like you need a shower afterwards. This is where American Indies should have been heading after the golden age of the 90s. Even though it’s going to lose to something more obviously issue-driven and melodramatic like Biutiful (hell, neither Run Lola Run nor Wong Kar-Wai were ever even nominated), it is one of the best films of 2010. Maybe when Yorgos Lanthimos starts making obvious and simple-minded movies about depressing suburbanites or over-the-hill/working-class-athletes who overcome the odds, he’ll take home the goldie.
Like most movies not made in the U.S., the film is frank when it comes to sex and violence (and animal cruelty, and incest). These subjects are presented matter-of-factly and are not really all that shocking in context. I would recommend it to miike or park chan-wook or Dogme fans (though it doesn’t have that same shock-for-shock’s-sake feel). Wes Anderson fans may like it if they are feeling adventurous. But they probably don’t want anything as different or interesting as this, if they are still Wes Anderson fans. Go watch your Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are Alright or whatever the latest annual psuedo-indie sweepstakes brings to the next hipster expo.
Dogtooth (based on the movie Dogtooth nominated by the academy even though it won’t win) is currently available on Netflix instant.