'Dogtooth': cruel or cool?

Film festival sponsors "dynamic conversation starter"

  • "Dogtooth" opens Friday at The Charles.
"Dogtooth" opens Friday at The Charles. (Handout photo )
November 11, 2010|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland Film Festival programmer Eric Hatch thinks the acclaimed Greek movie "Dogtooth" is a "dynamic conversation-starter." He predicts that it will draw cinematic adventure-seekers to the Charles when it opens there on Friday — and will get them to argue with each other afterwards.

I agree, even though it made me feel like throwing things at the screen.

"Dogtooth" pivots on a successful industrialist who has raised two girls and a boy in a secluded compound and, with his compliant wife, turned it into an alternate reality. They determine how their grown children understand language, nature and technology. When the college-age "kids" overhear their mother talking on a hidden telephone behind her closed bedroom door, they think she's talking to herself.

A second boy, we soon learn, escaped. By the midway point, we can't be sure exactly who these kids are. They could be foundlings, slaves or humanoids cooked up by the father in a petri dish. Despite tons of bad sex, the movie itself has all the emotional resonance of a lab protocol. Like his demented-patriarch antihero, the director, Giorgos (or Yorgos) Lanthimos, has created an avant-garde experiment in manipulating behavior. I found it both rootless and derivative.

Yet it's laudable that the film festival helped get this movie a local gig and is publicizing its opening. The festival is responding to the needs of its audience. Two screenings of "Dogtooth" at the festival last May filled the big theater at the Charles, sparked a frenzy of tweets and Facebook posts, and catalyzed debates that spilled into the lobby and the street. And festival director Jed Dietz believes that helping this film and others win Baltimore engagements proves his group's belief in "filmmaker advocacy."

Seeing "Dogtooth" clarified why I love films like Louis Malle's "Murmur of the Heart' and Bertrand Blier's "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs." They're just as bold in their assaults on taboos but are also comically vibrant, cinematically energetic, even lyrical. The only touch of poetry in Lanthimos' work comes from a Frank Sinatra song used in a sick-joke way. For me, "Dogtooth" felt like a root canal. It affects others like laughing gas. Thanks to Dietz and Hatch, you can see it and decide for yourself.

"Dogtooth" opens Friday at the Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St. Call 410-727-3456 or go to thecharles.com.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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