Dogtooth (Kynodontos) Giogos Lanthimas (Greece 2009) Christos Stergioglon, Aggleki Papoulia, Hristos Passalis
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 11 May 10, Ticket price: £6.50
Toothless or what….
By the time Dogtooth reaches the dark humourous final shot of the daughter trapped in the trunk of Papa’s Merc, it‘s too late. Dogtooth has lost the plot. As it progresses through sequence after sequence instead of embracing its subject matter the more surely and firmly, Dogtooth (DT) becomes increasingly evasive in treatment of its chosen theme. The problem with Dogtooth is that it finally opts for parody as a response to the situation rather than allegory; it develops into an extended sitcom rather than a satire. Guiding his material down the road of cheap laughs rather than the terror of absurdity, director Giogos Lanthiman takes the easy option and his film drifts into inconsequentiality. An outcome that betrays the intelligence of the camera work and the finely moulded nature of the performances.
Giogos Lanthimas’ (GL) subject matter is envelopment. Envelopment by a ma and pa of their children in a home environment in order to render the occupants immune from the vagaries and threats of the outside world. The home in DT becomes a filmic realisation of the gated communities that are characteristic of a particular response to living in late era consumerist capitalism.
I think that the intention of GL was to hold up to the lens of his camera the absurdity of believing that sequestered life behind walls is a solution to the problem of being in the world. House and family in DT are absurdist exaggerations of those suburban ‘communities’ found in contemporary society. Life behind gates and walls is elective isolation that entails the creation of a supportive belief system whose function is to justify enforce and reinforce, the blocking out the world. Gated communities, are reactive, based on fear and the desire to protect possessions illusions and desires from unwanted intrusion and desecration. GL’s script at the beginning sets up the Dogtooth situation with the creative demonic élan of an Ionescu , so that a familiar architectural and social world is turned on its head by the perversity of the expressed cognitive logic of the situation.
What is interesting in the idea of the gated community is the underlying issues that are raised. These issues can be internal relating to the dynamics of the group, and/or external relating to the dynamic of the group and the wider encompassing society. These issues have an inexorable logic that has to be met with an equal and opposing logic on the part of the gated community. Logics which Ionescu knew and analysed in different contexts. Logics unleash forces of contradiction and paradox which for survival require extreme responses: anti-logics, dishonesty and brutality.
Dogtooth establishes as its starting point, a logical fulcrum on which is balanced on the absurdist world of extended childhood in which silly stories, euphanisms and lies provide the basis of continuations communication and identity. But GL does not permit this logic to shape direct and drive the film. Sex is a central concern of Dogtooth and a concern around which much of the action is organised. But there is no tension in the play out of these concerns; no iron logic driving the sexual developments that exert pressure on both the characters and the plot line. DT instead of allowing logic and underlying tensions to give shape to the content and plot, substitutes a sequential structure. The film, like a soap opera is divided into sequences, each of which has a sort of resolution but through which there is no development of the controlling logic. As DT is abandoned to episodic sequences, it slides into parody and increasingly played for laughs; tensions are quickly resolved and defused and not permitted to direct the narrative. Instead of taking us somewhere, a journey in systematic twisted logic, DT goes nowhere and leaves us almost where we started.
The most distinctive device shaping DT is GL’s use of his camera. The film is composed using certain key shots that in themselves suggest the presence of alien logic at work. The lens favours a narrow depth of field; and the framing favours tight close ups, often favouring body parts such as feet or hands. The defining key shot mode is the still immobile camera, which frames space that is filled with close ups or medium close up shots of faces, body sections, objects (the opening shot is a cassette tape recorder). The perceptions engaged by the cinematography in relation to framing are several. Firstly the creation of film space that compresses the characters into a box, a filmic special representation of the family’s situation; the immobility of the camera also works to suggest that we are watching lives frozen in time, lives that are still, with no temporal development. Also the feeling given by the camera is one of disengagement: the family are detached both from there own body parts and from each other, and from their environments the house and garden. The house is a space which we never really see. It exists as a segmented reality a detached remote otherworldly space. In relation to the opening sequences, the establishment of a logic, the camera is a dynamic element nurturing the proposition of an ‘other’ logic in play.
The performances are also critical to the film. The children in particular project the quality of aliens, as if they had just stepped off a spaceship. Their disciplined acting works because it is always controlled and structured, part of the look and style of the movie. Likewise the playing of mama and papa is characterised by a furtive purposefulness that is underplayed and understated. As DT’s scenario fails to develop the ideas implicit in the logic of the material the expressive potential of both camera and acting is under-realised.