Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is an unknown confirming his status as a rising auteur with Dogtooth (Kynodontas). An artful, absurd coming of age drama set in an isolated suburban villa, Dogtooth concerns a wealthy businessman (Christos Stergioglou) and the teenage children he keeps separated from the real world. Winner of the top prize in the Un Certain Regard category of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, Kino International releases Dogtooth to enthusiastic critical acclaim and good word of mouth from the festival circuit.
Smart marketing will compare Lanthimos to other esteemed film artists who tell challenging stories like Austrians Ulrich Seidl, Michael Haneke and Götz Spielmann, or America's Todd Solondz. While more challenging and twisted than the summer's specialty hit Cyrus, Kino International will draw a select audience interested in the latest foreign fare from a new master when it opens the Greek language Dogtooth in late June via a limited platform release.
Overprotective to the extreme, a wealthy father (Stergioglou) and his obedient wife (Michelle Valley) hide away their three teenage children, a boy (Hristos Passalis) and two girls (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni), behind their walled garden and forbid them to venture outside their home. The father keeps the children obedient with frightening stories that describe cats as violent man-eaters and a made-up vocabulary where the word zombie describes a yellow flower. It's a twisted arrangement that works well until the father kidnaps a pretty worker from his factory (Anna Kalaitzidou) and brings her back to have sex with his son. With an outsider in their midst, the father's intricate fantasy soon breaks apart.
Dogtooth is only Lanthimos' second feature after a successful career directing TV commercials, music videos and stage productions. He may be new to U.S. audiences (his 2005 film Kinetta played festivals) but Dogtooth reveals a level of craft and confidence normally found in a veteran director. Co-writing the script with Efthymis Filippou, Lanthimos appropriates wisely from other tales about children separated from the real world like Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden and M. Night Shyamalan's The Village while introducing a welcome dose of dark, twisted comedy. He also inspires his ensemble to pitch perfect performances in difficult roles and shows much-needed restraint during moments when the story may turn too strange.
Lanthimos has also gone on the record saying that rehearsal on Dogtooth was underway long before the news broke on Austrian father Josef Fritzl and his crime of holding his daughter and their children captive for 24 years in his basement. Audiences may think of Fritzl as Dogtooth expands to major markets throughout summer, but the film is more Buñuel-like surreal comedy than chilling crime drama. Cameraman Thimios Bakatatakis brings the film a documentary-inspired feel that helps balance the bizarre actions of the stand-alone family. Costumes and art design by Elli Papageorgakopoulou make exquisite use of the family's villa and gives the film a rich luster similar to a William Eggleston photograph.
Kino International opens Dogtooth in New York City June 25 and plans a platform release throughout the summer and early fall. It's an acclaimed addition to their already impressive release schedule, a renewed pledge of support to challenging foreign fare. Guaranteed to rank high on year-end top ten lists, more crowds will experience Dogtooth via home video. Still Dogtooth will begin to open the door for U.S. specialty audiences to discover Lanthimos as a new master of his domain.
Cast: Aggeliki Papoulia, Anna Kalaitzidou, Hristos Passalis, Christos Stergioglou, Mary Tsoni and Michele Valley
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
Producer: Yorgos Tsourgiannis
Rating: Unrated; Greek-language, subtitles
Running time: 96 min
Release date: June 25 NY