March 31, 2011

Dysfunctional Family, Dysfunctional Film

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Dogtooth deters and disturbs.

Children raised in total isolation live bereft of experience and normality. If you’re thinking of the aptly-labeled “forbidden experiment” — where infants are deprived of spoken language — you were wrong. Rather, the Greek indie film, Dogtooth, vainly recreates a claustrophobic dystopia where two daughters and a son inhabit a world confined to the size of their backyard. Forbidden to venture outside their sprawling estate, the home-schooled family members have no choice but to quarrel, inflicting crude sexualized violence on one another.

Maybe art house theatre critics enjoy watching a psychologically irrational family self-destruct before their eyes. But in the U.S. — a country where movie viewers warily eschew subtitled films — Dogtooth lacks popular, entertaining appeal. Instead, the audience is invited to watch Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ botched copycat version of Luis Bunuel’s surrealist Un Chien Andalou, a failed stab at experimental film-making.

Lanthimos scores a few points in her creative reexamination of human nature. But the film baffles the viewer with its maze-like plot line and juxtaposition of startling Freudian images, from familial incest to perverse black comedy. Her attempts at deadpan humor fail, leaving instead a quixotic and utterly incomprehensible work.

The characters in the film — a father, mother, two daughters and a son — are nameless and subjected to patriarchal tyranny. Much of the film remains mysterious, and questions abound in every scene. What father would be so vindictive as to keep their fully-fledged adult children locked up on his bucolic property? Why wouldn’t their mother flee his suffocating cruelty? And what led to their current imprisonment?

As lord of the manor, the father exploits his offspring, alternately committing incest with his daughters and providing for the sexual needs of other family members. For the son, the father recruits a security guard at his factory to fulfill sexual favors. The security guard undermines the reclusive and overwhelming atmosphere as she trades a Rocky film for oral sex with the daughter. As the daughter reenacts boxing scenes, the father realizes that her daughter possessed illicit contraband, and he proceeds to severely punish both daughter and guard. The resulting dialogue and plot line offer an odd and incomprehensible foray into psycho-sexual analysis.

The prison-like conditions that the children live in resemble news-breaking tales of decades-long parental confinement — akin to Austrian grandfather Josef Fritzl’s imprisonment and rape of his daughter and granddaughter. Dogtooth relives the experience, and delights those willing to delve in to the sadistic suffering of a family. For others, prepare to squirm or turn away in disbelief.

The family members lack any and all manners and propriety as full-fledged adults descend into child-like behavior. When the Father returns home, claiming that a cat nearly mauled him to death — using red paint to evoke blood and a knife to rip khaki pants — he instructs his teenage offspring to crawl on all-fours and bark, in order to frighten the cat. The children happily oblige, illustrating a scene of horrifying absurdity coupled with exacting parental domination.

Aside from the dad’s daily commute to and from work, nobody wanders outside the estate’s surrounding fences. In fact, when a daughter chucks a toy airplane directly outside gate, the son is forbidden to tread a few feet to retrieve it. He waits for his father’s return from work, where the father effortlessly rescues the toy. The son expresses sheer fear of entering the outside world, afraid of acting in contradiction to his father’s orders.

Dogtooth progresses rather slowly and the viewer may feel bewildered or dispassionate. The aesthetics astound as pale thin limbs of the inhabitants jolt the white walls of their sanctuary-turned-prison. Lanthimos is a talented filmmaker in her own right, but in Dogtooth, she lacks depth and message. She ventures too far in creating a film defined by its incomprehensible psycho-sexual analysis.

Original Author: Max Schindler