DOGTOOTH Blu-ray Review

Associate Editor; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
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DOGTOOTH Blu-ray Review
After sitting down with Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth, I am really bummed out that this didn't win the Oscar.  This would have been an excellent chance to show that AMPAS has some balls, unfortunately, we all know that isn't true.  Of course, the film had no chance at winning, and I get the feeling that AMPAS felt that they were proving themselves relevant by even nominating the film at all.  Or course, Dogtooth wasn't the best foreign language film of 2010, but it certainly is a well made piece that far outpaces anything of it's ilk ever made.  It's ilk, by the way, is very small.

Dogtooth focuses on an unnamed family living in a secluded compound somewhere in Greece.  The location of the compound is completely irrelevant, however, as no one inside, apart from the family patriarch, is allowed to leave.  Within this fenced-in world, the father keeps his wife and three children suspended in a kind of alternate reality.  It all seems like a grand experiment.  The father, who like everyone else in the compound is unnamed, has raised his children, now seemingly in their early 20's, to live a life exactly as he has imagined.  It is a bizarre sort of forced D/s relationship. 

The only outsider allowed within the compound is Christina (also the only character given a name).  Christina is hired by the father to have sex with his son.  For what purpose, I'm not sure, perhaps just as a release.  Christina understands the rules of the house and at first tries very hard not to go against the grain, but she doesn't last.  Eventually her exoticism and temptations from the outside start to develop create cracks in the world the children have happily lived within, and so begins the collapse.

Lanthimos and the actors all do beautiful jobs.  Everything is played completely straight, despite whatever oddities maybe appearing on screen.  All of the actors playing the children are adept at performing with the naivete required for this role.  Even though they characters are no longer children, they still have the curiosity and awe that children enjoy.  Any time a outside stimulus enters the equation, they treat it as a threat or a curiosity.  Even something as simple and nonthreatening as a kitten becomes something to fear.  Their reactions to these moments feel very genuine, and it is this earnestness that really sells Dogtooth's world.

The film, while touching on themes of paranoia and the cloistering of populations from the truth, never seems to take itself too seriously.  There are plenty of light moments, and I will admit to laughing out loud several times Dogtooth at things that were undoubtedly intentionally funny.  They are only funny, though, because they are played straight, and that is the beauty of this film.  It isn't hard to believe that a place like this exists, and I'm sure it does to some degree.  From all of the people around the world who remain prisoners of their state run media, like North Korea, all the way down to religious cults in every country of the world who join together in compounds following charismatic leaders into oblivion, the cloistered world of Dogtooth certainly exists. 

Lanthimos has done one of the hardest things a filmmaker can do, he's made something new.  There have been a few attempts at something like this, John Waters' Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living come to mind, but the characters interact with the real world too much to make it a direct cognate.  Dogtooth is about as "cult" a film as there is ever likely to be, more on par with something like El Topo or Eraserhead than something more self-aware like Rocky Horror.  I really hope it gets more exposure, as it is a truly original work, and extremely well made.  I definitely want to go back and explore Lanthimos' previous films now.  I think he has a very bright future.

The Disc

Kino International released Dogtooth on DVD several months ago, but the day it was announced that the film was getting the Oscar nomination, Kino announced that they would release it on Blu-ray, and I'm glad they did!  The video presentation is bright and clear.  There is not a lot of color in Dogtooth, but there is plenty of detail to be found.  Dogtooth on Blu-ray has a very filmic look and is mostly very clean.  There are a few small specks and marks on the print, but nothing that is really distracting, it was actually a bit reassuring to me, as it reminded me that this was shot on film, rather that digitally. 

The sound mix is a little bit more complex, but in a good way.  The sound is crisp and clear, and dialogue is easily discernible.  One thing I noticed when watching the film was that for all of the portions of the film set inside the family compound, which is 98% of the film, the wonderful DTS-HD 5.1 track keeps all of the action in the front.  However, on the brief occasions that the father ventures out into the world to go to work, the sound mix becomes more immersive with ambient sounds filling the rear surrounds.  This is a very interesting and clever trick from the sound designers, and helps to complete the facade.  Bravo to that!

The extras are fairly slight.  Kino have included an brief interview with the director, which is informative and helps provide a little bit of background on the film.  I would have liked to have seen something more in-depth, but this is nice.  Also included are some deleted scenes which seem extraneous and were best left on the cutting room floor.  Finally, there is a short image gallery. 

Kino's Blu-ray presentation of Dogtooth may be short on extras, but it is long on content.  This is a brilliant film, and one of the most challenging I've seen in the last year.  On the surface, it is a very enjoyable weird little movie, but there is subtext there for those who seek a deeper experience.  Highly recommended!
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huffy08April 21, 2011 12:02 AM

"This would have been an excellent chance to show that AMPAS has some balls, unfortunately, we all know that isn't true"

The theory goes that because most working Academy members often don't have time to see everything before voting they usually skip the foreign films in favor of the major categories. As a result, a large portion of the people who vote are retired, or in other words old folks with old-school tastes. Sounds ridiculous but it explains why sentimental flicks often get chosen over more challenging ones (Departures over Revanche and Waltz with Bashir; The Secret in their Eyes over pretty much everything it was up against). I made a pretty penny this year betting on In a Better World simply because it sounded the most preachy of the nominees.
So yeah, Dogtooth didn't have a snowdrop's chance in hell. But it is nice that it was nominated (I think a smaller committee are in charge of choosing the nominations, which explains why something like Departures was able to make the shortlist).

huffy08April 21, 2011 12:05 AM

Er, I mean Confessions on that last bit, not Departures.