Thursday, February 24, 2011


Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos with a script written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, Kynodontas (Dogtooth) tells the story of husband and wife who imprison their children in their home as they reach into adulthood.  With the children not knowing of the world outside, their repressed are lives are changed with strange occurrences including a security guard who works for the father.  The winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.  The film stars Christos Stergiolou, Michelle Valley, Angeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Christos Passalis, and Anna Kalaitzidou.  Kynodontas is truly one of the most fucked up films ever made about imprisonment.

Living in an estate outside of the city in the middle of nowhere are a married couple (Christos Stergiolou and Michelle Valley) and their three children.  For years, the children learn new words every day that really mean different things as they have no idea of the world outside.  With a tall fence surrounding their property and their children are adults, the father brings in a security guard named Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) to his home so he can fulfill the sexual needs for his son (Christos Passalis).  Yet, Christina is more interested in the eldest sister (Angeliki Papoulia) while the youngest sister (Mary Tsoni) looks on wondering where did her sister get the headband Christina gave her.

While the father works and runs a factory at a nearby town, the kids remain isolated in their home as they engage in contests for stickers and such.  Yet, Christina’s visits would have an influence on the kids as they also believe to have an imaginary brother.  An encounter with a stray cat would have the father claiming that the cat is a monstrous creature.  When the mother claims she is going to have twins soon and the kids will have to share rooms, contests are held again to see who can still have their own room.  Even as the parents begin to have more control around the household.

When Christina makes another visit for the brother and older sister, the older sister blackmails Christina into giving her the movies in exchange for sex.  What happens would create a chaos into the lives of the family as Christina is banned for life.  The repressed world that the children lives in becomes a nightmare as it would lead up to an event where everything would change for one of the siblings.

The film is about three young siblings in their teens/20s who live in a very repressed yet wondrous home that is surrounded by fences blocking whatever is outside.  At the same time, the planes that appear in the sky are believed to be toys as the siblings hope a plane would be the ultimate prize.  They’re also taught to believe that words such as “zombie” means a small yellow flower or salt is called phone.  The only person that comes to their world as an outsider is Christina who is always forced to be blindfolded in and out of the house not wanting to know of where her boss lives.

The script is very loose in terms of storytelling as it often features the young sibling playing around their backyard or swimming in the pool.  Yet, there’s very few moments when they would have strange encounters such as a stray cat.  The problem is that they have no idea what to do as their immediate reaction is a violent one.  Particularly towards another at times since they need some way to react to their repressed lives.  The presence of Christina during her visits would create some inklings of the world outside as the eldest daughter would start to react in such a way that leaves the parents befuddled as they would have to discipline her.

The screenplay not only succeeds in the way it presents its characters while it also has an ambiguity into why the parents are keeping their children in their home and not telling them what is outside.  There is never any answers into why and really, that doesn’t seem important.  When the film goes on, it becomes more troubling to the point that the film will reach into subject matters that will make anyone uncomfortable.  Even in how the eldest daughter decides to break free.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ direction is definitely one of the most intriguing elements of the film as if he’s playing the invisible brother watching everything unfold.  Lanthimos’ framing of the scenes he creates whether its shots of all five characters with one of them in the background is very startling.  It’s as if he knows what he needs to shoot while making the audience just as uncomfortable in not just scenes of violence.  Even in sex scenes which aren’t explicit in some parts but other scenes do create a sense of disgust.  There is a bit of dark humor into Lanthimos’ direction such as the way the father pours fake blood and creates cuts on his suit just so he can warn his kids about the outside world.

Lanthimos also uses hand-held shots for a few scenes while creating very silent moments for the film just so he can observe the behavior of the characters.  What is more striking about the film is that there is no film score though there is a soundtrack which is a mixture of Greek folk and pop music plus a song by Frank Sinatra as the father claims is the children’s grandfather.  The overall direction of Lanthimos is phenomenal as it is definitely a true breakthrough for an up-and-coming director.

Cinematographer Thimios Bakatatakis does a superb job with the film‘s bright, colorful photography for many of the film‘s daytime interior and exterior scenes.  Notably the gorgeous look of the grass in the backyard and in the pool.  For the nighttime scenes, the film carries a dreamy look while having some bit of grain in some of film‘s darker scenes.  Editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis does an excellent job with the film’s editing with its methodical yet rhythmic cuts to create a slow pace for the film.  Even as it helps create montages that emphasize the world that the children live in.

Production designer Stavros Hrysogiannis and art director/costume designer Elli Papageorgakopoulou do a fantastic job with the look of the home the family lives in that includes old-style beds with stickers on the boards for the kids.  Even for the climatic party scene where the set decoration is great along with the dresses that the young women wear for the party that looks very girly.  Sound designer Leandros Dounis does a wonderful job with the film’s sound to capture the intimate yet idyllic world that everyone lives in as the interiors scenes are very sparse in sound.

The casting by Christina Akzoti and Alex Kelly is wonderful for the actors they chose to play the main six roles in the film.  Anna Kalaitzidou is excellent as Christina, the security guard who is hired to have sex with the son only to create a sense of rebellion to the elder daughter in exchange for sexual fulfillment.  Mary Tsoni is very good as the youngest daughter who is the medical specialist of the family while also having a habit of licking people just to get the things she wants.  Christos Passalis is excellent as the son, the one in need of sexual fulfillment while also being the most competitive as he is the one often talking to the imaginary brother.

Angeliki Papoulia is superb as the eldest daughter who often amazed by the appearance of Christina while would become the one to rebel as she has an amazing moment during the party scene towards the end of the film.  Michelle Valley is pretty good as the mother, the woman who is often by herself as she talks on the phone in case something goes wrong or sometimes organizes the game just to hand out prizes.  Christos Stergiolou is great as the father who tries to create an entirely fantasy world for his kids to stay away from as he does all of the things to make sure that the world out there is dangerous as he’s also abusive at times despite the fact that he’s just trying to protect them.

Kynodontas is a mesmerizing yet eerie film from Yorgos Lanthimos featuring a superb ensemble cast.  It is definitely one of the most disturbing and certainly, fucked up films in recent years.  For a mainstream audience, the premise of the film will be interesting yet how Lanthimos will go to push buttons including taboos will definitely stay away from a film like this.  It’s certainly a film that audiences that want to be challenged will no doubt find something in a discovery like this.  In the end, Kynodontas is a dark yet fascinating film from Yorgos Lanthimos.

Yorgos Lanthimos Films: (My Best Friend (2001 film)) - (Kinetta) - (Alps) - The Lobster - (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) - The Favourite - Poor Things - (Kind of Kindness)  

© thevoid99 2011


Courtney Small said...

Completely agree with this film being a huge breakthrough for Lanthimos. I think this film will put Greek films on the map. I see its impact being similar to how City of God opened the door for Brazilian films, and how Amores Perros open the door for the new wave Mexican directors.

thevoid99 said...

I heard Lanthimos is going to have another film out this year with the actress who played the eldest daughter. I hope it creates a new wave of Greek films. Something that isn't the Hollywood version of what Greece is with such films as those Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or those awful Nia Vardalos movies.

Patrick Gamble said...

I think this may be the only Greek film I've ever watched, and whilst I'm not going to rush out to find more I certainly will be keeping an eye on Lanthimos.

Such a novelty to find films as challenging and diverse as this

thevoid99 said...

@Patrick: It's also the only Greek film (that isn't a Hollywood film) that I've seen as well.

If this is an indication of what is coming from the Greeks. Please, do so. We need more good cinema outside of the U.S.