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Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009) is an unsettling examination of how easily the desire to control others can lead to tyranny. The film follows three teenagers confined with their parents in an isolated Greek country house. Surrounded by high fences on all sides and in possession of a carefully manicured lawn and swimming pool, their lodgings give a whole new meaning to the term ‘gated community’. The teenagers, all on the brink of adulthood, spend their days playing twisted games of endurance, swimming or listening to endless tape recordings misinforming them about words and their meanings e.g. the salt cellar becomes a ‘telephone’, yellow flowers are renamed ‘zombies’.
There are the usual rivalries and jealousies between the siblings, but these are often settled in abrupt acts of violence. All the while, both ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ exert control over their children (and their use of language) through misinformation and denial. It’s not hard to see why Lanthimos’ disturbing and unique film has won the director such critical acclaim. The story and cinematography are audacious and highly original, whilst the tightly framed, often headless shot selections and characters breaking in and out of the viewfinder gives a vivid sense of disjointedness to proceedings. At the same time, Lanthimos’ film is extremely self-referential – the characters watch videos of themselves, with these personal records quickly becoming their entire world.
The sense of voyeurism implicit in cinema is replaced by the illusion of reality TV as the house’s high fences prevent the Greek teens from seeing outside their prison, and others from looking in. There is (intentionally) little opportunity for us to truly identify with any of the characters and even the film’s explicit sex scenes are mechanical and devoid of eroticism. Instead, Lanthimos’ camera chooses to linger on what is distinctly unerotic – a cassette player, feet, the boot of a car – devaluing our pleasure. Some have labelled Dogtooth a black comedy, and while there isn’t much to laugh about, there is certainly plenty to admire. Lanthimos has produced a film that continues to run in your mind after the credits roll, only we are free to enjoy what the characters lack – normality.