Premiering at the MFAH December 16-19, director Yorgos LanthimosDogtooth is the family unit as Madagascar. An isolated, claustrophobic, continental island where familiar situations play out counter-clockwise and inverted. Where evolution has taken an unfamiliar turn, we see the distorted worldview of a Greek family suspended in the false puppetmaster world of their father’s making.

The film is part Funny Games and part Todd Solondz suburban nightmare melodrama; we visit a family of five in an expansive home and estate where only the father comes and goes. Everyone inside labors ignorantly, not knowing what television, radio, or newspapers are, and believing that airplanes are tiny toys that fall from the sky for them to discover later in their large back yard. The teenage children throw food over the tall walls of their estate’s grounds, imagining that they can attract company. The son is old enough that, in order to pacify his powerful libido, the father pays a security guard at his work to visit frequently, thus keeping peace in the house. The (twin?) teenage daughters take to the prostituted stranger with kindness and awe.

The film is widely categorized as a comedy, and I expect the intellectual crowd at MFAH to laugh out loud, as they often do in moments of obscure comedy, but I found the film to be a nightmarish look at a family unit much like the ones we see on CNN where a man has kidnapped a woman and forced her to live in a basement with low ceilings, etc. The main difference here being that these people live in a beautiful, large home with tastefully ornate landscaping and a swimming pool. Left alone, nobody here is suffering, except perhaps that they haven’t been exposed to the society that we all lament as a burning Rome anyway.

The scenario unfolds, of course, with the father’s 20+ years of meticulous planning crashing under its own weight. The smallest deviations are magnified in this closed society. Mistakes compound exponentially when lies to cover lies become exposed and covered with more intricate, if less successful, lies. The humor is blacker and blacker, but hopefully less funny, as we see enough of our own world in the fabric of this terrible, awesome family scene.

I’m glad I saw it, like I said, in the way I’m glad to see Tod Solondz’s films. It’s a good movie, perhaps even great, winning awards all over the world, but I wouldn’t want to ever tell anyone that I enjoyed it, even if I did.

[Dogtooth is playing at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Thursday, December 16th through Sunday, December 19th, as part of the Premieres: Contemporary World Cinema film series.]
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Review by . Review posted Wednesday, December 8th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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