Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dogtooth (2009, Lanthimos)

Rating: ****

In its goals and methods, Doogtooth is not entirely unlike Haneke’s White Ribbon (2009) – the big difference being that Lanthimos doesn’t conceal the fact that the world he’s depicting is an entirely ingenious and self-contained artifact. The movie, which tells a story of a family run by an über-controlling father bent on redacting his kids’ reality so that it doesn’t include any unwanted “stimuli”, is so offhand in its ways that it’s quite astonishing how Lanthimos manages to deliver complex narrative feedback (in spades!), and yet never lose the tone of an entirely episodic, seemingly casual family chronicle.

Its biggest virtue is how it doesn’t succumb to a temptation of being merely a carbon-copy parable of a totalitarian state, but instead plunges into the flexed mindsets of all the players involved. A movie about the inner workings of a reality borne out of fantasy can easily become overtly metaphorical (the case of Saura’s The Garden of Delights [1970]), or generic (Shyamalan’s The Village [2004]). Instead, Lanthimos chooses the path of an investigative role-play, in which the audience is given bits and pieces of information, and has to glue them all together as the movie goes.

What cracks the father’s perfect family-unit-bubble asunder is precisely what he was fearing – that is, mass culture. (One terrific scene has him translating – and doctoring – Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” to the point of it becoming a family-values anthem). Video rentals of Rocky (1976) and Jaws (1975) suddenly widen the verbal scope of one of the kids to the point of a wild quasi-prophetic outburst, and nothing is ever the same again. That way, it’s the language itself that takes the form of the Terence Stamp-like sex-Massiah in this exquisite new take on Pasolini’s Teorema (1968).

A great movie, and a major talent to be heralded by all.


  1. Caro, I enjoyed reading this. I'm rather a stickler about the use of the possessive, though, so I feel obliged to tell you that it's James Van Heusen (music) and Sammy Cahn (words) who wrote "Fly Me To The Moon." They, if anybody, deserve the possessive.

    (An Aside: When I, myself, am writing I tend to say "[singer X]'s performance of [song y]" This is accurate and it gets around sticky questions of authorship.)

  2. You're absolutely right, Chris. I was wrong to make this shorthand -- thanks for putting it straight!