DOGTOOTH and ALPS: A Yorgos Lanthimos Double Feature

The Greek director’s early films are as hilarious and horrifying as ever on Kino’s new Blus

I love how much Yorgos Lanthimos loves lists.

In Lanthimos’ films, the overly specific and usually unprovoked details listed by his characters are the means by which they deal with the inscrutabilities of human nature. The Lobster’s characters choose mates for life based on these trivialities, their hobbies and features defining them rather than the other way around. The pawns making up Colin Farrell’s social circle in The Killing of a Sacred Deer garner a waning sense of security in the superficial details of the everyday objects that surround them. And in the overall opulence of his latest, The Favourite, the wealth and splendor of Baroque period drama serves as an ever-crumbling mask for the emotional rot and hunger for status within.

The approach may come off as something like sentient Wikipedia articles attempting to engage in conversation with each other. The overall effect, though, is just as deeply hilarious as it is deeply unsettling, as Lanthimos exposes our own willingness to imbue and infer meaning in emotionless objects…as if by some transitive property we’ll gain some sense of meaning in ourselves.

With a re-release of 2009’s Dogtooth and the stateside Blu-ray debut of 2011’s Alps, Kino encourages a new wave of American film watchers to indulge in the meticulous absurdity of Yorgos Lanthimos with the two films that first garnered the Greek director international attention. In Dogtooth, lists of objects — and their absurd redefinitions — become a conduit for understanding the rationality behind the parental decision to raise one’s children free from society’s corrupting influences. In Alps, lists of favorite foods and entertainers provide key context into creating an imitation of a human being — if only for a temporary amount of time. In these two films, lists compartmentalize overwhelming and dangerous emotions, giving abstractions like grief or desire a tangibility that makes them easier to repress or overcome. As also shown in his later films, such a rational strategy often builds to a violent and torrential breaking point.

The Oscar-nominated Dogtooth features three adult sisters and a brother who have been isolated from the outside world since birth by their parents. Over the course of the film, the siblings are raised to strictly adhere to random, senseless rules and beliefs. Housecats are carnivorous beasts; an unseen brother they’ve never met lives just over their garden fence; and once they lose their titular canine teeth, they’ll be free to live in the dangerous outside world. Their parents supply the bizarre rules and objects that define their children’s lives, possibly believing that redefining the inherently random rules imposed by society may lead to a better way of life for them all. However, the repressed emotions of their adult children eventually build to an inevitable series of contradictions that threaten violent conclusions.

Alternating between uncomfortable hilarity and bemused terror, Dogtooth sees Lanthimos take a sledgehammer to social niceties altogether. Whether it be the parents who must find some consistency in their bizarre redefinitions of the world in order to maintain control, or the children who take their parents’ rules and explanations at face value, each member of the family grows increasingly confined by a prison of their own making. It’s the Lanthimos film that revels most in stripping everyday life of the context we give it, as well as in our ever-increasing frustration with how the slightest skew in perception can undermine the identities we’ve created for ourselves.

Video: Dogtooth is presented in 1080/24p using the same master as Kino Lorber’s previous Blu-ray release. Preserving the film’s intentional washed-out, sanitized look, picture quality is stark and contrast heavy while also featuring a welcome amount of original film grain.

Audio: Dogtooth is presented in 5.1 surround and includes a 2.0 mix that was not present on the film’s initial Blu-ray release. Sound design is vibrant and clear, with a sterile ambient quality that lends itself well to the detached nature of the film.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Angeliki Papoulia and Christos Passalis: In the first of two new features for this release, two of the film’s leads provide an illuminating English-language look at the mostly-improvised scenes of the film, their experiences working with writer-director Lanthimos, and divining the overall motivations for their characters over the course of a film shoot that proved to be both mundane and bizarre.
  • A Conversation with Yorgos Lanthimos: Recorded in 2019 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York Film Festival Director and film critic Kent Jones interviews Lanthimos about his film career, especially regarding his most recent film The Favourite.
  • Archival Interview with Yorgos Lanthimos: Ported over from Kino’s previous release, a 12-minute interview with the director on the origins and production of the film.
  • Deleted Scenes: Three brief excised moments from the film, Father Sings, Fly Me to the Moon, and Bathroom Dance.
  • Trailers for Dogtooth and Alps
  • Reversible Cover Art

Alps follows a quartet of unnamed individuals who, for a later fee, dress up as and imitate deceased loved ones in order to aid in the grieving process. One of the four, a night nurse nicknamed “Monte Rosa,” finds her roles increasingly more fulfilling than her outside life, and her growing unwillingness to detach from her roles quickly earns the building rage of those who are ready to move on from their grief.

This was my first viewing of Lanthimos’ follow-up to Dogtooth, and I was struck by how much of a thematic and stylistic twin Alps is to its predecessor. Monte Rosa, whose real name we don’t know, is almost as lacking in identity as Dogtooth’s three siblings (and is played by Lanthimos staple and Dogtooth’s eldest sister Angelika Papoulia). She is equally reliant on the information those around her feed her, but to diverging ends. Where Dogtooth’s older sibling struggles to reckon her inner beliefs with the contradictory and fictional advice of her parents, Monte Rosa uses her given facts about the deceased to retreat from whatever individuality she possesses. In doing so, she hopes to find a new, fulfilling existence through permanently filling the gaps of other peoples’ lives. It’s one of many interesting thematic reversals throughout this weighty and engaging film, as the grievers in search of comfort and the woman who seeks to give it both seek to rationalize and purge the memories that cause them mental anguish. With both Alps and Dogtooth, it’s striking that in worlds of such prized rationality, all of the characters do everything they can to calm their inner storms except the most rational decision of all: to confront and embrace their frenzied nature.

Video: Alps is presented in 1080/24p, using the same master as Kino Lorber’s 2012 DVD release. Picture quality is high when scenes are brightly lit, especially in shots with a greater depth of frame, but in sequences of low light there are instances of slight ghosting — perhaps due to artifacts in frame rate conversion. Such moments, however, are few and far between.

Audio: Alps is presented in 2.0 and restores a 5.1 surround track missing from Kino’s original DVD. Lanthimos’ choice to forego a traditional soundtrack means Alps’ sound design rises in importance, and Kino’s mixes here highlight the sparse soundscapes of the director’s film.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Amy Simmons: In the disc’s only extra of note, the British film critic and historian analyzes Alps’ larger themes of loss and self-psychotherapy, both within the context of Lanthimos’ filmography from origins to The Favourite, as well as in modern Greek society. Simmons’ track is remarkably in-depth, and provides illuminating facts about Greek life and practices (such as the three-year maximum allowance of burial plots before exhumation) that then warrants a repeat viewing of the film.
  • Trailers for Alps and Dogtooth

Dogtooth and Alps are each available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

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