Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When the Dogtooth Falls Out

As you may or may not recall - all depending on how long you have been reading this blog - I saw Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2009. I did not like it and walked out at around the 50-minute mark. I had been battling a particularly deranged variation of the flu (I maintain it was swine!) at the time, so I decided to pack up my belongings, go home and sleep. I've never second-guessed myself or regretted it, but my interest was recently piqued again by the film's Oscar nomination. Dogtooth received a local DVD release at last in mid-February and I decided to place it on my Quickflix queue to give it a re-evaluation and last night I finally watched it.

I can confirm that I made it through all 90 minutes this time. And not just that, but I didn't actively hate it, either! I think we can consider this a win for the film. Alas, I'm not all retroactive "masterpiece" on the beast.

One of major issues with the film beforehand was its almost slavish devotion to arthouse conventions just as much as mainstream films are to their own traditions. Unfortunately, I still think they suffocate the film for large stretches. The long, unmoving camera shots; the flat-toned acting that would be called "Ed Wood-ian" if it were in English; the abrupt end that doesn't give any sort of closure whatsoever; the numerous "look! i'm evocative!" moments that all but call for the film to be retitled Taboo: The Movie. The acting is the one I am most confused by. Were they acting? They all sounded like particularly bad amateur actors reading of cue cards. I could understand this from the children due to their sheltered upbringing, but the adults, too? Maybe someone could fill me in on the reasons for this? And unlike, say, Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, which uses a very similar visual style, I didn't think the static camera was all that interesting here.

Nevertheless, without the blur of disease I found some quite interesting things being said about the natural desires and instincts of young people. No matter how much you shelter them, a teenager (were they teenagers?) will always face certain issues in their life. The boy working out before his meeting with Christina was particularly telling. And, surprisingly, of all the provocative stuff being thrust about, it was the incest that felt most natural and relevant. Go figure.

As an unconventional take on an issue that has being more and more prevalent in recent years, I still can't say Dogtooth entirely worked for me. I can't quite tell whether I a) didn't "get" it at all, or b) I "got" it much earlier than Lanthimos thinks I should and then spent the rest of the movie feeling scenes were unnecessary. "Oh, another scene where the kids do some weird taught behaviour as if it's normal? Sure!" But I feel like I can now at least marginally appreciate what's trying to be said. I will say that no matter how much my opinion may have varied, I can say quite firmly that I didn't find it "hilarious" like this poster quote from Nicolas Rapold in the New York Times would have me think.

If I had to do MIFF2009 over again, however, I wouldn't change a thing. I'll always have Dogtooth as a reminder of how one's state of mind can have an impact on the reader of a film. It's good to be reminded that opinions change over time. I routinely find myself at odds with people who think their opinion is most definitely the right one - honestly, how many times have you read a commenter at a blog say "fact is, you're wrong! the movie is great/terrible" - as I've always held the belief that if films weren't meant to be subjective then what's the point? And it's particularly nice, if a tad confusing, to be subjective with my own self. This could lead to all sorts of doubts and worries about movies that I have no desire or time to watch a second time just to decide whether my initial reaction was right. And even then... I can't erase the fact that I loathed Dogtooth upon initial viewing. What makes this second viewing any more "correct" than the first?

I feel like I'm sending myself down a dangerous warren that I don't have the inclination to dive into.

Funny story: I recently visited my hometown of Geelong for my brother's birthday and whilst sitting around my mother asks if I'd seen Dogtooth (after an initial "dog... dog... something" forgetfulness of the title.) I chuckled and said I'd see half of it. Mum didn't quite know what to think of it, but I was suitable impressed that she'd seen it (it aired on Foxtel). My mum is a curious woman though - our film conversations can routinely swing from discussing Michael Haneke's Hidden to, er, Tom Shadyak's Evan Almighty and our opinions differed wildly on Shutter Island, which she watched multiple times within a few days. Hmmm. As for Dogtooth, she was much in the "I don't quite know what to think of it" camp, which is as understandable a place to be as any other, I suspect. She had to cover her eyes during the infamous feline scene, but didn't every cat lover? :(

So, take away from all of this whatever you choose to. I'm going to mark Dogtooth up to a C+, which is certainly an improvement! I'm going to leave you with my favourite image from the film. I liked it a lot because it the one that felt most like a shot from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which I think would make an interesting double feature with Lanthimos' film, don't you think?

My dogtooth has fallen out and now I can move on.

1 comment:

Amir said...

you know, i placed the movie at number one of the year on my own blog, but i can't say i disagree with anything you say.
i think it's one of those films that i like for quite inexplicable reasons. when i watched it a second time, i enjoyed it just as much, but i get what you mean when you say the film sticks to art film conventions. for some reason, it didn't bother me here the way it did in say, uncle boonmee.

and, i totally don't get that "hilarious" either. i mean, yeah, some parts are funny in an eccentric way, but i'd be really surprised if anyone was actually laughing his ass off in the theater at a screening of this movie.