By Kim Voynar

Dogtooth Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Dogtooth, the searing tale of suburban satire, familial horror, and political subversion that won the Un Certain Regard category at this years Cannes Film Festival, puts an extraordinary spin on the idea of twisted families. Iit’s brilliant in equal parts because the director, Yorgos Lanthimos, immerses us so completely in the crazy world he’s created and in part because the entire cast gives themselves so fully to their parts that we can’t help but believe them.

It’s impossible to truly describe this film — really, you need to see if for yourself to fully appreciate it its delicous madness — but the setup, in brief, involves a mother (Michelle Valley) and father (Christos Stergioglou) who completely control their three teenage children, who they keep like lab mice in a carefully sterile and isolated country estate.

To be fair, the mother in the tale is as controlled as the children, in her own way, but she’s still complicit in the abuse and manipulation of her offspring. The three siblings — one boy, two girls — are all in adolesence, and at least part of the message of the film seems to be that the introduction of sexuality and a window into normalcy infused into the siblings’ world via Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) a young woman paid by the father to come to the house — blindfolded —  to sexually service the son is, ultimately, the family’s downfall. A message about the evil of women, with Christina as the temptress Eve, perhaps?

You know the news stories you sometimes hear about a crazy father who imprisons his children in a basement refuge for 20 years and no one is ever the wiser, and you wonder to yourself, “How is it possible that this went on and no one knew?” Dogtooth is a play on that idea, at least on the surface,  but at the same time you have to ask yourself just what ideas the director is really attacking here — and I expect that if you asked ten different critics who were at today’s press screening that question, you’d be likely to get ten different answers.

My take on it is that it’s in part a social criticism of “hover-parents” who are overly protective of their children to the point of harming them, called out by the extreme measures the matriarch and patriarch of this particular twisted clan take to control what their children know and how they think and act.

From teaching them the wrong words for common things (asked what a “pussy” is, the mother calmly replies that it’s a bright light, as in “when the pussy was turned off, the room was plunged into darkness,” whereas a “zombie” is a small yellow flower and a “phone” a shaker of salt) to drilling the children daily in endurance games such as who can hold their breath under water the longest, the parents control every aspect of the children’s lives, rewarding them with stickers and punishing them brutally for their failings.

While this is certainly “hover-parenting” taken to an extreme way beyond frantically cleaning a child’s hands with antibacterial wash every time he touches dirt, or teaching a child to call his penis something innocuous like “birdie” rather than what it is, I think the film critiques controlling parents as it more broadly critiques society. It’s perhaps worth noting that the children are never referred to by name; they are only the son (Hristos Passalis), the elder daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) and the younger daughter (Mary Tsoni), thus depriving them even of the individual identity of names to call their own.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but sense a political undercurrent to the film as well; there are certainly aspects of the film that allude to extreme xenophobia (albeit mixed in with a very unhealthy does of pure insanity) in the way in which the father is obsessed with controlling every aspect of his children’s environment and his belief that, in doing so, he’s actually molding them into better people. Once the elements of sex and the outside world have infected the house and, in particular, the elder daughter  like some sort of out-of-control virus, the horror starts to spiral out of control.

By the time you’re about a third of the way into this film, there’s nothing the director could throw at you with the behavior of this crazy family that could shock or surprise you, though you might find yourself, as I did, cringing and muttering, “Oh no, he’s not gonna go there …” more than once.

Dogtooth is relentlessly stomach-churning, horrific, shockingly funny and subversive all at the same time, and more than that, it’s a remarkably original piece of filmmaking with some astonishing direction, both in terms of the acting (raw, honest and utterly superb) and how particular shots are framed and set up (when you see the film for yourself, see if you can spot the exact moment in the film when the camera actually moves for the first time … it’s this kind of attention to detail that sets a film like this apart).

There was also a lot of thought put into the set-up, particularly in moments like the way the parents deal with manipulating even pieces of the outside world they can’t control, like cats wandering onto the family compound and airplanes flying overhead.

I have to think this film was probably shot on a very low budget, but it’s exactly the kind of film that proves the point that you don’t need a big Hollywood budget to make a smart, compelling and completely original work. This is the kind of film I love to see at a festival … if only they were all this good.

-by Kim Voynar

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin