April 27, 2010


Dogtooth is one of those films- Holy Mountain is another- that I have watched in my life and struggled with. Dogtooth is about a family based somewhere in Greece. The father and mother have three children who appear to be somewhere between their late teens and early twenties. They have imprisoned these children inside their country home, with only the garden and the inside rooms to navigate and taught them a bizarre system of knowledge where words do not mean what they mean outside (seemingly on an arbitrary basis). Furthermore they have left these kids with very little sense of what the world is, the children beleive that aeroplanes drop out of the sky and that you can catch them like toy planes, that fish appear from nowhere into a swimming pool, that you cannot walk out of the gates of the house but you have to drive. There are two daughters and a son. The parents have decided that the son needs some sexual stimulation, so they have hired a security guard at the father's place of work as a prostitute, she comes in drops her trousers and has mechanical sex with the boy before she leaves to the outside world.

Lots of things happen in the world that we see- including the prostitute asking one of the girls to perform oral sex on her in order to obtain a hair band and various competitions (at one point the children compete to see who can hold their hands under a hot tap for the longest time, at another they compete to see who will wake up after an anaesthetic first). They are told by their parents that they will be ready to leave when their canine teeth- their dog teeth- fall out: but that they will not be ready to get in the car (the prelude to actually leaving) until the said tooth jumps back inside the mouth (that is a prospect whose occurence would justify a miraculous literature). So the children are trapped in a world that does not really change. Its a bizarre world for the viewer to see, summed up I think by the perfect quote from the father who tells them that their mother is about to have kids, two children and a dog. Perhaps it demonstrates something about the ease with which people are convinced of things that are not true, perhaps not.

It shatters though, like all Edens (and this may be a perverse Eden) under the influence of sex. Christina the prostitute creates conflict, not between the young boy and the parents- the boy's sexuality is undeveloped and stilted- but between the eldest girl and the parents. Christine's offer of a hairband for oral sex means that the girl becomes fixated on oral sex herself. Christine leaves the scene and the girl is commanded to have sex with her brother- this leads to a further revolt. Sexual desire and repulsion rends the hermetic family apart- and in a sense could be read for an allegory of how sexual desire rends the real family apart. Afterall sons and daughters leave the family to fall in love and marry. Perhaps that is what this film is getting at- the natural processes by which love and revolution step hand in hand to the alter and consumate a marriage which creates the next generation.

I am still not convinced by any of my attempts to get at an explanation though. Sometimes I wonder whether the film was not designed purely to shock. It has some fairly boringly explicit sexual scenes- the least exciting in the entire film- in which we see all the bits. Perhaps they are designed to be unerotic deliberately: the director portraying a sexual act which has lost all its meaning and hence is meaningless and signifies nothing. I think there is a laziness here at work though as well. There are some scenes of violence- in which for instance a cat (incidentally did I mention the children live in fear of the so called monster cat that lives outside the walls) is pinioned by a trident- but again they don't shock they bore. Like Holy Mountain or the art of Tracy Emin, you are left wondering whether this is just immature, the potterings of a fourteen year old who never learnt that being shocking and being good were not synonyms. The film is definitely tainted by someone who has no sense of the importance of not showing things.

The film confused me and perhaps I have missed a masterpiece. The acting is solid and there is a sense in the camera work that we are supposed to be noticing something- lots of shots of people from odd positions, lots of cameras that don't move during a conversation. The characters are not real characters but ideas of characters- cutouts. The parents' behaviour is never explained, neither is Christina's. Everyone is left mutely in flux- a bit like I felt coming out of this film. It neither wound me up, nor did it inspire me, perhaps there are some themes to it that merit attention but to be honest, and perhaps this was just not a night for me to see an experimental film, I was a little bored. Dave Cole was also there and I'm looking forward to his review- I'd suggest you read it as plenty more intelligent critics than I thought this was a great film. However I won't be rushing to see it again.


Dave Cole said...

I promise that I will do a review of Dogtooth, and of Holy Mountain, but both will have to wait until the election is over.