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Dogtooth -- Film Review

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Horror and cold humor commingle in "Dogtooth," a Greek import whose screenwriters approach scenario construction like misanthropic social scientists planning an experiment -- one whose result suggests that governments might want to rethink policies allowing parents to home-school their children.

Disturbing and at times startlingly brutal, the film will alienate those who seek genteel fare at the art house. But its edgy integrity and distinctive atmosphere should win fans in some corners, particularly among those who admire the less tongue-in-cheek work of Lars Von Trier. The film, which played at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, won the Grand Prix when it screened in Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Festival de Cannes.

Set in a home whose creature comforts are corralled by a tall, view-blocking (and escape-preventing) wall, the film offers three unnamed siblings and the parents who have totally shielded them from the outside world. The post-adolescents, two girls ( Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) and a boy (Hristos Passalis), have been given a strange education peppered with purposeful and bizarre misinformation that would seem like an elaborate practical joke if only the parents seemed to derive any pleasure from the deception. As it is, Mother (Michele Valley) and Father (Christos Stergioglou) are humorless and intent, like zealots whose religious faith is never explained to us.

The indoctrination ranges from innocuous vocabulary tweaks ("a motorway," we learn, "is a very strong wind") to bits of lore meant to instill a fear of anything beyond the wall. The father works on the outside and provides for the family, bringing home groceries, which he strips of their name-brand wrappers, and occasionally a woman (Anna Kalaitzidou), who is paid to see to his son's sexual needs.

The mood around the hearth is one of affectless inquiry, with the children struggling to digest the contradicting facts they're given -- like the bizarre threat, "in a few months, your mother will give birth to two children and a dog." But a primal curiosity remains, eventually leading to discord and violence, whereupon the father places this curse on the outsider he blames: "I hope your kids have bad influences and bad personalities."

That's the only hint at a motive here, but the action in "Dogtooth" suggests that it's the parents who are incapable of dealing with a scary world -- a world that filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos hints couldn't possibly be as crazy-making as those who shut themselves off from it.

Opens: Friday, June 25 (Kino International)
Production: Boo Prods.
Cast: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriters: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Executive producer: Iraklis Mavroidis
Producer: Yorgos Tsourgiannis
Director of photography: Thimios Bakatakis
Production designer: Stavros Hrysogiannis
Costume designer: Elli Papageorgakopoulou
Editor: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
No rating, 94 minutes