Cinema works two ways in Greece. Theo Angelopoulos is the prestige cinema we export to Cannes or Venice every couple of years, but it's not what we watch as a peoples. The multiplex is crowded with the Hollywood milieu, and the national product we consume either strains for respectability and po-faced seriousness (El Greco, Psihi Vathia) or is plumb stupid in the face of it (Soula Ela Ksana). The irony of Dogtooth then is that it will become the toast of the town for a few months not because we recognize something of importance in it but because the Oscars did. In a strange coup, tinsel town glitz and glamour seems to validate radical art.
Already TV talk shows that wouldn't have anything to do with cinema outside the latest Brangelina gossip are playing the trailer as panelists exchange in a serious manner banalities about this fierce new voice of Greek cinema. The welcome aspect of this is that Dogtooth will be exposed and confront an audience which otherwise would shy away from that confrontation. The moral guardians of society, here and abroad, will once again no doubt grasp the opportunity to condemn or be selfrighteous or pass judgement, the film gives them the podium. Dogtooth addresses them, preemptively addresses their reaction, and it addresses us.
Greece was lucky (or unlucky for some) to barely escape the iron grip of communism, not without a price paid fully in blood, but we didn't escape the grip of a totalitarian state. It's a bit of a stretch to attempt the claim that, in the wake of the military junta of '68, Greek society is divided between those who can afford to drive Mercedez Benz and those who can't, but the exaggeration is rooted in the reality of a class divided society. Nikos Nikolaidis, cult legend of Greek cinema, gave us sorrowful portraits of the down and out, the outcasts and the misfits, Dogtooth invites us behind the mansion walls of the rich.
In Singapore Sling, Nikos Nikolaidis created in microcosm a world where, having satisfied their apparent problems, decadent individuals turned to satisfy their basest instincts, violence and perverse eroticism. Dogtooth takes the comment further, where no more concessions need to be made, is violence all that bubbles at the core of our being or is violence only the symptom of a corrupt being? Is violence our human nature, or is it our inhuman nature, unnatural to us.
I like how the film posits that argument. What is an utopia to the characters, is a dystopia ot the viewer. The first instance of that dystopia is the violence of language, equally emblematic of Maoist propaganda and Orwellian narrative. Not by objects external to us, but how we relate to them. If we begin to replace the ugly for the beautiful, "zombie" for "flower", then a point down the line comes where what stands for an open world must be replaced by the mundane or the casual, "sea" for "armchair". "Zombie" and "sea" pose equal threat to the authority of the parents. In this sense, to speak clearly is to know the true nature of things, and the opposite.
Where the film stands on its own for me is the unpleasantness, do I recognize in it an important metaphor worth enduring it or am I titilated to sit the duration. I do, not only because I can recognize the tragedy of a human being who doesn't know any better than to perform cunnilingus in exchange for a trivial object, but also because I am moved by the genuine horror of the son who disembowels the harmless cat he considers a grave threat to the peace of his dystopia. The violence of the parents begets more violence, and more, without the moral compass of being able to think for oneself, right and wrong disappear.
Dogtooth tells us that oppression that happens with the best intentions is still oppression, that to seek to protect from outside corruptive influence is in itself an outside corruptive influence. The soul needs to be formed from within at some point. Who makes laws for the lawmakers, who polices the police, it's the same argument for me.
The end is poignant in that sense.
The daughter makes her first steps out on the world but she's dead, literally inside the trunk, or figuratively dead to the world. What's there to be reborn to? Can a future be surmised for her outside of that trunk when she doesn't know any better than to be sexually intimate with someone for a trivial object? Her values, outlook, perspective, have been shaped for her, the movie shows us the cost extracted. Dogtooth's power then is not only the sketch of social allegory but also the means to it. The surreal makes sense to us.
It's also one of the darkest comedies I've seen in a long while. The usual wooden delivery of the actors in a Greek movie, is turned to an asset here. And I like how the daughter's liberation, or the onset of it, from her parents, happens in the form of a manic dance, in a final performance that celebrates the breaking loose from the confines of a prison of the soul.
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