Saturday, September 12, 2009

TIFF Day Two: Dogtooth

Lev Lewis reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival

My second day at TIFF was likely to be my most relaxing. My first and only film was at 9:45pm, so I decided to head over to Yorkville to see if anything was happening. Walking along Cumberland I spotted Jeffrey Wells at a Starbucks and decided to say hello. For someone like me who lives in Toronto far removed from the film world of LA or New York it was fun to see someone I read everyday hanging out in my town.

I'm currently sitting in a coffee shop with not much time between screenings (Day Three). So, the movie...

Dogtooth
Yorgos Lanthimos' sophomore feature, which won Un Certain Regard at Cannes, tells the odd story of three "children" whose parents have guarded them from any interaction with or unfiltered knowledge of the outside world. The film moves languidly, eschewing narrative in favour of mood; filling its somewhat lengthy 94 minutes with striking compositions and random bursts of violence. Lanthimos cited conversations with friends about the current state of family as his main influence for the film. Dogtooth's themes of isolation and control come across as quite relevant and compelling. Had Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Fillipou nudged their film towards a stronger narrative, the film could've been more than the minor work I'm afraid it is.

Dogtooth makes up for any lapses in plot with its cinematography. Shot in 2.35 anamorphic and with nearly all natural lighting, Lanthimos and DP Thimios Bakatatakis' meticulously composed shots are stunning in their simplicity. Funnily enough, a film I was reminded of was The Royal Tenenbaums. Both films explore disturbed family dynamics within the confines of a sprawling house. The films shared similar moments of dry humour and troubled relationships between siblings despite the contrasts in tone. Had the script matched the cinematography's brilliance, Dogtooth could have been a masterstroke. Lanthimos' narrative oversights hinder an otherwise exemplary endeavour. Grade: B+

14 comments:

Jorge Rodrigues said...

People... COLIN FIRTH won the Best Actor Award for his performance in A Single Man.

Could we have an Oscar contender right here?

Glenn said...

Dogtooth, just a couple of months back, became the first film I walked out on.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I was about to argue that demanding more plot from Dogtooth sounds a lot like missing its point, but that might have something to do with how intensely impressed I was with the film and what a singular, staggering and haunting achievement I found it to be (easy Top 10er or even Top 5er for my year end list).

But seriously, I know it's a subjective view and we live on a planet where you are allowed to have one even if it differs from mine - but really.. more plot?..

I can understand that argument if the film set out to be plot-driven and traditionally accessible. But Lanthimos isn't trying to pull off The Royal Tennenbaums here. Shouldn't you be judging film based on what it aims to be rather than what it never even wanted to be?

Glenn said...

I could've dealt with the lack of plot if it hadn't have been filled with every cliche of pretentious art filmmaking. And then they had to go and murder a cat.

Lev Lewis said...

Y Kant Goran Rite: I'm usually very opposed to comments just like the ones I have made about lack of plot. And plot or story or what have you is really not something I usually find myself asking from cinema. However, there was something about "Dogtooth" that just felt lacking to me. Mid-way through the film and it felt like it was going nowhere, and until the last five or ten minutes I was failing to see the point. I do think it redeemed itself with those last few scenes.

Gotta run to "Up In the Air"!

Asha said...

This has the dubious honour of also being the first movie I have ever walked out on. (Right after the cat scene).

Glenn said...

Asha, I didn't wanna give the movie the satisfaction of walking out after the cat scene. I instead walked out when the sisters started licking each others legs. Ugh

And while I guess I'm legitimately interested in how it ended, I just had the feeling that the director was treating me with contempt and, as Lev says, felt it was going nowhere incredibly slowly. I could foresee the ending as being one of those annoying ambiguous endings where it just cuts to black midway through a scene and that's it. Ugh. I hate those.

NATHANIEL R said...

wait? they kill a cat? onscreen? what is it with art movies and cats. I guess I can't see it now. I can put up with a lot from movies but violence to cats is an automatic pass for me no matter how fine the reviews are.

you have to have some moral standards.

Lev Lewis said...

Glenn: The film's ending is actually one of its strongest assets.

Nathaniel: The cat killing isn't quite as devastating as it may sound. At least in my eyes.

Glenn said...

SPOILERS FOR THE CAT BIT

Nathaniel, the kids in the movie have been told by their parents that cats are demonic forces and when sneaks into their compound the son murders it with a pair of shears. Then all the kids get on all fours and start barking like dogs.

Ugh.

Jsimple said...

Whats going on with your saturday and sunday review?

Kim said...

Honestly, I need to know for my own sanity, is the cat scene real or is it staged?

Ant said...

For Kim, and any others curious - according to the BBFC website, the cat killing scene was fake...

In their words -
"The films also includes a sequence in which a cat is attacked with a pair of garden shears. We see an initial pounce as the cat is caught, followed by an aftermath shot of the dead animal.
In order to satisfy our obligations under the Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937, detailed assurances were sought from the film makers. These revealed that rubber shears were employed and that no animals were harmed."

Stephen G. said...

When a Nobody wants to act like an artist - naturally due to a complete lack of talent - he comes up with an idiotic plot, spices it up with a few controversial scenes and voila... a 'masterpiece'! This movie is a COMPLETE waste of time and an insult to creativity. And by the way, whoever has to resort to the depiction of animal killing - as is the case here - in order to make a (meaningless) point, well they are really pathetic.