Kynodontas (2009)

2 02 2011

I wish I could go back in time and give this movie to myself about five years ago. Since such technology doesn’t exist, I just have to enjoy this movie as a nostalgic liking for the time whenever I liked “subversive” films the way I once did. There’s a still a lot to like here. It looks beautiful and unravels in this fascinating yet slow way. The problem is that I guess I’ve gone a little soft on such subjects. Yeah, I admire something for being this weird and transgressive and whatnot. But it ultimately comes up on the side of being brutally cold. This works for some people, Bruno Dumont comes to mind. In the case of Lanthimos, though, it just seems a little too much when paired with something that’s pretty miserable to think about in the first place.

The story concerns a unidentified family. The father is the only working individual in the family of five, the rest are imprisoned in the jail that is the family’s yard. The father tells the children lies of another offspring, whose disobedience led to his death. The outside world has little to no influence on the family until the father resorts to hiring a colleague, Christina, to satisfy the son’s “urges.” Eventually, she becomes a similar tool for the older daughter. Sex creeps into the family’s blood stream, and it starts to tear them apart.

Lanthimos is working with the same cinematic vocabulary as the aforementioned Bruno Dumont and the similarly sterile Michael Haneke and while he gets all the technical stuff right, the extremism displayed in the film’s story threatens to overwhelm all of his other qualities. I don’t mind that the film is frank and disturbing, or even that it manages to be funny within the same scene (a la Todd Solondz, I suppose) but instead that the film’s brute force almost makes it feel a bit didactic. Contrary to one clearly confused Netflix user, this movie is not a cautionary tale about homeschooling. This sounds pretty comical for anyone who has seen the film, and that’s because the message, if it is there, seems like it would be a bit more consequential than parenting, especially since the father is closer to a breeder than he is a parent.

This is probably where the film loses me. Okay, you’re never going to be able to make a subtle or open-minded film about a Josef Fritzl-esque character, but I guess I have to blame it on the subject matter being so displeasing in the first place. I never felt uncomfortable (save the “tooth” scene) but even that wouldn’t be a problem. While I was always fascinated by each character, I found their emotional trajectory to be a little short. So you live in an impossible household, welp, that sure is bad. Maybe emotional relation is at fault here? I don’t feel for the characters anything other than pity. They don’t even seem real, though I guess that is sort of the point.

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4 responses

2 02 2011
JeanRZEJ

I feel like the film is constructed in such a way where the skeletal features allow for it to be a film about the consequences of overprotective parenting taken to extremes, but instead of featuring realistic characters to emphasize the tragedy and trap the viewer in the sort of uncomfortable voyeurism he wisely creates characters who embody only a few key human features. They are vessels whose human qualities are required for the skeletal exterior, but upon close inspection they are as artificial as the film’s construction. It’s much less ‘transgressive’ than it is absurdist, to me. I have been relating the scene with the cat to the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – instead of a small white rabbit taking advantage of their ignorance it is here a small kitten who is a victim of the kids’ innocence. It’s certainly a darker twist, but no less hilarious, to me. It also features the overlaid screams of the sisters, something which is both totally absurd and totally makes sense in the film. This, I think, is the essential element which makes the film. It is totally absurd, and yet it makes perfect sense in that way. It goes far enough to make itself totally absurd, in order to overstep any overbearing emotional aversion, and yet remains situated within a central conceit. This blog is what introduced me to the films of Angela Schanelec a while back, and I can say this – as much as I appreciate the mood established in her films which refrains from any excess or artificiality, in this film I appreciate the the exaggeration which creates a perfect balance between the dark subject manner and the light mannered execution to create a consistent mood of absolute absurdity. If I can be trapped inside a Kafka novel in the cinema then I will take it every time.

3 02 2011
Jake Savage

Thanks for stopping by.

I don’t think the lack of realism is so much the problem for me instead that I have a harder time completely embracing the absurdity. It’s a bit like TEOREMA by way of Carlos Reygadas and little bit of Korine. I admire Pasolini and Reygadas’ like-minded films and obviously, I consider Korine’s GUMMO to be the best in such absurdity. I guess there wasn’t enough liveliness there to give the skeletons are too flat. The humor is dark and resonates with me, but I honestly can’t give something resembling a feeling for these characters. It’s still a great movie and considering how indifferent everyone in it makes me feel, that is something of an accomplishment.

On a different note, it’s always flattering to learn that this blog introduced someone to a person’s films. You’re welcome, but more importantly, thanks for reading.

3 02 2011
JeanRZEJ

Pasogadine? Too many references. Overload! It doesn’t help that I have conveniently sidestepped all three of those directors up until this point. They’re on ‘the list’, but the list is long! This reminds me of The Temptation of St Tony – every review names at least 3 different influences, and almost none of them name the same 3. I picked Andersson, Kafka, and Grandrieux – I couldn’t help but pick my own triumvirate. If you haven’t seen that one, I highly recommend it.

As for your difficulty conjuring up feeling for the characters, I guess I see them like friends, and that makes it easy. How else could you describe a pair of girls willing to inhale some anesthetics for my enjoyment? I felt like we really bonded at that point. I was never really tricked into considering them people, so I felt like it was an exhibition more than a human story. Even still, once things got real toward the end I found the violence to be quite affecting, at least when it dealt with people. That the violence transcended the divide so readily for me definitely worked to highlight it as one of the central elements. I guess I’m kind of in love with films where the characters are skewed one way or another, though, be it all the way up like Zulawski’s films or all the way down like deadpan comedy. The middle is where I get bored.

Thanks for writing! The reading is the easy part, I assure you.

10 02 2011
gregoryno6

I saw Kynodontas – titled Dogtooth in Aust – at Rev Film Festival in Perth last year. Not a movie that gives itself easily to the viewer; you either accept it on its own terms or leave the room (which nobody did, so far as I know). For most of the first half I wasn’t sure this movie even had a script, but gradually it came together. And then it ended. Just. Like. That. But that was better than say, the police arriving and demanding an explanation from the parents. Hell, what could they say? We just decided we were going to raise a few kids and mess with their heads totally?
This film exists in its own bubble of madness. And I have never thought of keyboards the same way since.

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