Tuesday 28 December 2010


If family is the breeding ground of society, it also contains within itself all the disturbing dark corners of humanity. As Kynodontas slowly reveals the structure of the family it depicts, it becomes increasingly clear that the oddities go far beyond the usual neuroses. The three children (one boy, two girls) seem old enough to be on their own, but instead, they live completely secluded from the outside world in an environment that is and has always been controlled by their parents. The film examines the instruments of control the parents use - stories about the horrible outside world, manipulating language (zombies are small yellow flowers, and this manipulation of language itself becomes relevant later, when it makes understanding the stories others tell them impossible) both to control information and to keep the children from developing the ability to understand their own situation as anything but normal, a regime that fosters competition between the three and fills their days, even if these games look absurd from the outside.
The stories are the core of how the parents keep the children in check. There is a mysterious brother who has ventured  outside, beyond the high hedge that surrounds the premises, and is met with mythical monsters and starvation. There is a story about the ritual involved in being allowed to eventually leave too, but the parents assume that none of the three will ever get to this point.
The family is a closed system and any outside contact a potential threat to the absolute control over information and interpretation the parents have. The father occasionally drives a security guard from his factory to the house, blindfolded, to satisfy the sexual needs of his son, but he was never provided with the context to understand any of it, so these events leave both unsatisfied. This flaw in the parents' planning brings about a slowly unfolding crisis - Christina, the security guard, bribes one of the daughters with a headband to perform oral sex on her . She has no ability to estimate the actual value of the object (it has phosphorescent stones but might as well be a magical) or to understand the significance of what the other woman is asking of her, but this introduces a new element to the daily routine of the siblings - something new that can be used to gain power within the closed system. Even though the older daughter does not completely understand, she does realize that this gives her power over Christina, since she has something the other woman wants, and this leads to a further destabilization, as she gains access to two video tapes (Jaws and Rocky). They prove to be revelatory since the only other source of media the children are allowed to consume are family tapes, which are celebrated like movies, and a couple of records which, the parents tell them, are recordings of other family members, in order to keep up the appearance that they inhabit the only civilized space available.
The order starts to fall apart. When the father realizes that Christina has "flawed" his perfect children, he removes her from the equation, but the seeds she planted can't be so easily destroyed. The parents decide that one of the daughters has to perform the duty of Christina (consequently completely closing the system), and the son picks the eldest, who is constantly repeating lines from the two movies and desperately trying to figure out how these other worlds can exist alongside the one she knows.
Kynodontas should be an incredibly shocking movie, but the absurdity of the situation provides a strange kind of humour as well - when the brother discovers a kitten in the garden, he bravely tiptoes away to get a weapon and slay what can only be a monster, since it came in from the dangerous outside beyond the hedges. The parents decide to seize the opportunity and finally kill the fictional brother who no longer serves the purpose as a cautionary tale, as the children have found subtle ways of adding different layers of meaning to the story their parents have told them (the brother has made up one in which he is fighting with the potential rival, while one of the daughters is throwing food over the hedge to help keep him alive).
Ultimately, Kynodontas becomes a tale about the limits of control. The daughter finally realizes that there is a way out without breaking the rules, and the film ends the very moment that she will see the outside for the first time, and finally realize that the stories her parents told her were just that.

2009, directed by Giorgos Lanthimos, featuring Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsona, Hristos Passalis, Anna Kalaitzidou.

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