Sunday 12 September 2010

On DVD: "Dogtooth"

A genuinely weird item from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth introduces us to a middle-aged couple who - fearful either of bad influences or domestic unrest - have managed to prevent their twentysomething sons and daughters from ever setting foot in the world outside, to the extent these offspring now skip and gambol around like pliant seven-year-olds on the very first day of the summer hols. This process has naturally required going to extremes. A female security guard from dad's workplace has been shipped in to (rather clinically) take care of the clueless son's burgeoning libido, and phoney language tapes have been recorded to narrow down the children's expectations of what lies beyond the garden fence.

In these tapes, "sea" becomes a comfy chair, "motorway" a strong wind, while you don't want to know - or perhaps you do? - what will be prosaically redefined as "a big light". A visit to the nearby kennels suggests this may just be an over-extended behavioural experiment, yet it's increasingly apparent that, despite father's best efforts, this seclusion can't last forever: the youngsters' games are getting deadlier, while the security guard - who has needs of her own to satisfy - is scattering the seeds of revolution, sexual and otherwise, by insisting you can do more in the bedroom than just the missionary position.

What's it all about? A parable of the nanny state, possibly, or - given that video tapes become a key tool in this power struggle - of the infantilising effects of technology and pop culture in particular (and in a film this fascinated by language, it's perhaps the case that "pop" is intended to mean "father" as well as the zeitgeist) - those phenomena that can so easily blind us to what is healthy or challenging. Lanthimos's execution is, I have to say, a little strained; the set-up occasions self-consciously childish thesping from the young (adult) performers.

It's also a bit too much the arthouse attention-grabber that all these characters (not just the children) should be defined primarily by a perverse sexuality - the sort of thing designed to send Dr. Freud into a flap, but at which a seasoned master of domestic satire such as Buñuel wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. (Last year's Swiss oddity Home handled the implosion of a family unit in altogether cooler, less sensational fashion.) Dogtooth is certainly bold and formally confident, though, and Lanthimos even sneaks something genuinely subversive into the mix from time to time: the sight of a grown man climbing into bed between his parents, say, or the sounds of "Fly Me To The Moon" being reinterpreted as an ode to staying resolutely at home.

Dogtooth is available on DVD from tomorrow.

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