Arriving in 2009, Yorgos Lanthimos’ second film, Dogtooth, felt like a brave, unique voice had spoken up in world cinema. The Greek director, who took the Prix Un Certain Regard in Cannes for the film, would go on to further demonstrate his penchant for absurdist world-building in his 2015 English-language debut
The Lobster . But Dogtooth set the tone: cool, cruel and micro-controlled.
In the Greek countryside, a wealthy middle-class businessman lives with his wife and three children: a son and two daughters (Angeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni). We never learn their names. They’re confined to a splendid-looking house with an outdoor swimming pool, in grounds surrounded by high walls.
The children – all in their early 20s, though infantilised in many ways – have never left the homestead or seen the outside world. Their seemingly placid parents have kept their offspring confined with the use of subtle scare tactics and mind-control techniques, such as leading them to believe they have a brother who has been ostracised and lives just over the wall.
Aside from a stray feline that unwisely decides to enter this family compound (this isn’t a film for cat lovers), the only outside presence is Christina, a security guard at the factory where the father works. She’s brought to the house, blindfolded, and paid to service the sexual needs of the son – a notion that will eventually upset the equilibrium of this bizarre family.
Lanthimos, who worked on the script with his now-regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou, leaves everything open to interpretation. Certainly, it can be seen as a critique of home-schooling and as championing the need for social interaction for all children (a more recent film, Captain Fantastic , broaches the same topic, albeit without the pitch-black humour). But you sense there’s more at work here, stirring beneath the surface.
We never learn the motives behind this couple’s dictatorial approach to parenting, and we simply accept the world that Lanthimos plunges us into. In a story that is playful, funny, violent and horrifying in tone, these apparently normal parents treat child-raising as something akin to rearing a dog: at one point we literally see them on all fours, barking.
It may remind you of earlier films by austere Austrian Michael Haneke, in particular Funny Games (2007): rigorous in form, shocking in execution. But there can be no doubt that Dogtooth is a one-off – a stark reminder that not everybody is fit to be a parent.
Dogtooth will be screened – together with two short films, Belated Punctum: La Jetée 2 (2015) and Meteorites (2007) – on December 3 from 7.30pm, at Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei, as part of the M+ Screenings: Home Movies programme.