- 27 Apr 10
Tara Brady talks to Greek director Yorgos LANTHIM about his shocking and riveting new film Dogtooth, which caused quite a stir at Cannes.
Dogtooth, an astonishing new work from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, re-imagines the family unit for a post-Fritzl era. The film, a major award winner at Cannes and the recent Dublin International Film Festival, is by turns, shocking, riveting, repugnant and very, very funny. Recently, we caught up with the writer-director to ask him how on earth one comes up with a movie like this.
Where did the initial idea come from?
It started with me just wondering about the family unit and how it might change in the future. Will it become extinct? Will it always be necessary to raise children in the way we do now? The family unit is unquestionably changing. So will there be people out there who are so desperate to hang on to the traditional notion of the family that they will do anything to maintain that structure, including shutting out the outside world?
They speak in their own language where telephone means salt; how did you devise that?
Mostly, the language came about as a solution to a practical problem. When you start making up a story and thinking it through, you start to wonder how the parents would control the situation to the extent they do. Language is a weapon for them and a means of hiding things.
You ask Aggeliki Papoulia to do some extraordinary things on camera; how did you build up that kind of trust?
Well, firstly, I choose well. The actors I worked with were delighted to do something so different. Most of the actors in the film have their own theatre company so they only work with other people when they really want to. We rehearsed a lot and we mainly focused on forgetting that they were actors in favour of playing games and being totally blank.
Many people have drawn parallels with the Josef Fritzl case in Austria. But you had already started shooting as that story broke, hadn’t you?
Yes. That’s a very different case. Our film is funny and ridiculous and contradictory. It’s bright and pretty, in contrast with the drama and secrets of the house. The Fritzl case is very different. It’s just horror. I understand why people have seen certain parallels but we are coming from somewhere else. We worked hard on maintaining a balance between violence and humour and the surreal. We wanted people to get involved in the film by giving them lots to things to think about and laugh about.
The story has travelled very well. Does it retain any uniquely Greek attributes?
Like a lot of Europe what I’ve observed in Greece is that children are now living with their parents until they’re quite old. They’re supported by their parents into adulthood. There’s also the old cliché of the patriarch who is proud of his son having sex but he thinks very differently about his daughters having sex. So those aspects of the film have some grounding in reality.
Dogtooth is so unique it’s difficult to see where you might have taken inspiration. Were there any indirect influences?
Now from film really. Mostly from pictures and pieces of music. I try not to visualise anything until after rehearsals. Film should be a process. If you go in with concrete ideas about aesthetics or anything else, you deny your collaborators. You need to let your cast and crew bring their best work and you won’t know in advance what that will be. My own favourite filmmakers are Bresson and Cassavetes but if they are influences on Dogtooth it has happened at a subconscious level.
How did you make such a gorgeous picture on such a limited budget?
Favours! We had people working for free and working for scale and working for favours. We borrowed furniture, lights, props, everything. It looks like a much more expensive film because so many people were so kind.
I know you’re a member of the Filmmakers Of Greece. Tell me a little about that organisation’s work?
There are a lot of problems with funding films in Greece. There are no tax incentives to attract private funding. Then last year we had the scandal of the Greek State Film Awards. The prizes were really corrupt; you had monetary prizes being shifted around between producers. Also, there is no film school in Greece. There is only a little private one that is no good. By law, also, the private TV channels are supposed to reinvest a percentage of their profits in filmmaking. And they don’t. And nobody makes them obey the law. We are asking for all these things to change. It’s difficult, especially with the financial situation in Greece right now. But we will keep trying.