Review: Dogtooth – Kynodontas (2009)

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Dogtooth – Kynodontas (2009)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos | 96 minutes | drama | Actors: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou

This film by the young Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos also characterizes the shocking but at the same time gripping impression that books like ‘The Cement Garden’ and films like ‘Festen’ and ‘With great joy’ leave behind. Horror and bewilderment go hand in hand with emotion and even a handful of comedic moments. The fact that these can go together so well is the great strength of the film, because only generating horror is much easier and a lot less impressive. Much of the sincerity comes from the actors, especially the three young actors who play the adolescent children of the family.

Director Lanthimos’ mind must have gone into strange contortions to figure out some of the things that happen here. A game the two sisters enjoy playing is administering a narcotic to themselves, becoming unconscious, and then timing who comes to his senses first. That the manipulative and sadistic nature of their father has made the children not only victims but also small manipulators in turn, is the horrific conclusion that appears from the behavior of the girls towards the hired Christina. The way in which the children interact with each other and the self-evidence with which violence is used also shows the influence that their upbringing has had.

A film like this shows how fragile the institution ‘family’ really is; how much power the paterfamilias still has – especially in Greece – and how it can have horrific consequences if used incorrectly. In a broader context, the family setting can also be seen as symbolic, and the father as the ‘leader’ of any social group. In this way, the inescapable conclusion of the film also gets through.

The setting of the film in warm Greece, in and around the main house, with an orderly green garden and inviting swimming pool bathed in a constantly radiant sun, makes the events even more surreal and penetrating. All this will leave no viewer untouched. It is no coincidence that the film won the top prize in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

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