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.