Saturday, May 8, 2010

ND/NF Films: Dogtooth

This is one of the quirkiest films I have ever watched in my life. But it is also one of the most suggestive films as well. It is a story about a family that is absolutely controlled by the patriarch of the family. The film combines dark humor with a strange perversity that makes it very odd to watch. The family is composed of five family members. Two young girls and a young guy probably in their mid-twenties, the mother and father. The father works in a factory near their place of residence, and the mother and children remain in their home all the time. They are kept inside by a preposterous lie created by the father and mother that makes them fear the outside. It is not clear what this lie is, but is a tantalizing lie that makes one of the girls fascinated with the idea about the outside.

There is no clear story line to the movie, it is just a jumble of different happenings surrounding, mainly, the life of the three "children". In this sense, it is very clear that the movie is allegorical, because it is more preoccupied with creating a scenario, than by telling a story. This is not necessary a negative aspect of the movie. I suppose the teleological characteristic that is inherent in movie-making would suppose that there should exist a distinct story line with a distinct purpose, but plenty of bad movies are made that have distinct story lines and distinct purposes. Pick any Hollywood film and it will most likely be a great example of this.

The main point of Dogtooth is control. How ares lives controlled? The patriarch manages to control the lives of his children (and his wife as well but in a different way) by creating a paradigm that they understand and makes sense to them. The idea behind this paradigm is to keep the "children" inside the house. The outside is a terrible world that they are not ready to manage or to deal with. The father does this by many different means. The most important mean that he uses to control their lives is language. He uses language in a variety of ways. For example, objects are called by different names so that a "chair" may be called the "sea" or a "sofa" might be called "salt". I still don't quite understand why there is a need to use "wrong" names for certain objects, but it is part of the father's plan to control every aspect of his children's lives. One of the telling scenes of this control comes when the father, after having dinner with his family, asks the children if they would like to hear their grandfather sing. Then, he puts an old LP of Frank Sinatra in English (I should mention now this is a Greek movie in Greek, watched by me in translation) and translates the song as saying something like "Family is very important, children should be respectful and follow their parents' orders" etc. I don't know what the song was that played in the movie, but I think it is clear that the lines were "accurately" translated by the father for the purpose of ideological brainwash.

However, like in all apparatuses of ideological control, and the dogmas that are transmitted by these paradigms, there are things that don't make sense, and that create differences that translate to injustices. The father brings in a woman that is a security guard at the factory where he works to sleep with his son. It is left partially unsaid, but it is clear that it is believed that the boy has some certain sexual impulses that must be satiated; an impulse that is not shared by his sisters (right...). The movie fails in one point here...there is a scene in the movie where the sisters seem to be encountering, dealing and acting on those sexual impulses, and in a moment where one of the sisters wants to "lick" her sister, the movie shies away from having them experiment sexually. The sister ends up licking her sister's leg or shoulder but not other interesting spots that may be more...impulsive. It is not that this would satisfy my impulses as a viewer (ahh, possibly), but it makes the sisters look naive, and kind of ends up reinforcing the boy/girl difference and hierarchy.

The movie is disturbing at times. All the women in the movie are victims of psychological and physical violence that is, if I may, absolutely disgusting at times to watch. The mother is seen suffering throughout the movie for the lie that she's imposing in her own children. Why does she continue with this? It is not really answered. In a scene when the father meets the security guard (that has been sleeping with the son) after she has possibly jeopardized the idyllic nature of 'home' by lending some Hollywood movies to one of the sisters, the father beats the woman with a VCR in her apartment. It is an extremely violent scene. People in the theater were laughing, as the woman was violently beaten. I won't try to distinguish myself from other viewers. I wanted to laugh too, I controlled myself and I didn't. But this was intended. My whole reaction was intended by the director. Or so I think. And this is where this movie is brilliant.

The movie is called 'Dogtooth' because "only when one of the dogteeth (canine teeth) is longer than the other, will they be allowed to go outside", or so goes a saying that the sisters and brother talk about. One of the sisters then takes a five- or ten-pound weight to her face, breaks her dogtooth, leaving blood and tooth pieces al over the sink and runs away: someone will always want to run away into the unknown.

The implications of this movie are very interesting to think about. Home, outside, outsiders, insiders, immigration, boundaries, borders, foreignness. All of these themes, and ideas, are in question here.

More pseudo film reviews to come from ND/NF....

See you soon in our Cafetin!


  1. I love your review of the film, and my interest is piqued. The deliberate misnaming of things reminds me of political propaganda. The mother who suffers because she knows what's happening but is convinced she's powerless conjures up an image of a low-ranking security guard at Abu Grahib who saw Lynndie England and her insane buddies take pictures of naked, hooded Iraqi men forced to masturbate in front of each other, but felt paralyzed by fear of the consequences of snitching.

    Among other aspects, the misogyny of the film is disturbing. But I find some relief in learning that it is one the sisters who defiantly leaves the oppressive control of the patriarchy.

    Keep the reviews coming!

  2. I want to see this! Is it online by any chance? I hope so!!
    Much luv!