It certainly appears to be an ideal childhood. The three kids spend their days swimming in the pool and playing in the sunny yard of their family’s home in the Greek countryside. They listen to vocabulary tapes during the day; each evening there’s a family dinner with music or home movies afterward. When they are good, they are rewarded with stickers. But recently the father (Christos Stergioglou) has decided to bring in surly young security guard Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) from his factory to have sex with the middle child now and then. A young man has urges, and the strapping son (Hristos Passalis) looks to be pushing 20.
The wicked black-comedic deadpan of Dogtooth (Kino DVD; Blu-ray available March 29) never slips as director/co-writer Yorgos Lanthimos introduces the hermetic world of safety and comfort the father and mother (Michele Valley) have created for their son and eldest and youngest daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni, respectively), all now adults. The lessons the mother records on the tapes provide new meanings for the words for anything that exists outside the fence that bounds the estate. (When the sweet youngest daughter needs the salt, she asks her mom to pass the telephone.) When a plane flies overhead or a house cat sneaks onto the grounds, the father and mother improvise an explanation, a reaction, a way to preserve and perpetuate the illusion of their perfect world at home and the unspeakable savagery of the world just over the threshold of the gate barring the driveway. Of course, the more you try to control your children’s world, the more you risk a potentially unpleasant comeuppance when the real world breaks through anyway. Though Christina is brought to the estate specifically to service the son, she introduces sex to the eldest daughter too, and barter, and old VHS blockbusters. Before long, a belated youthful rebellion is underway.
Just as the father and mother exercise total control over their home and family, relative newcomer Lanthimos proves equally meticulous in constructing every aspect of Dogtooth. Using long static takes and forgoing a musical score, he doesn’t push or telegraph the absurdity of what’s happening; he simply lets it unfold. There’s never any exposition or explanation involving the construction/construct of the family’s private world, just little bits of information doled out along the way to sketch in the details. Perhaps most gratifying of all, Lanthimos hasn’t created a screed against helicopter parenting or a straight political parable. In a way, what we have here is an anti-Wes Anderson movie, a frank and extra-wry depiction of the pitfalls of stunted maturity rather than a precious celebration of its coddled quirks, with brilliant performances from Stergioglou and the coltish Papoulia.
As expansive and indulgent as Dogtooth is tightly controlled, Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void (MPI DVD and Blu-ray) creates an altogether different sort of alternate reality. Shot completely from the point-of-view of a young Occidental drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) living in Japan, Void depicts his last moments on Earth—and then keeps going, as his departing soul zooms back and forth over the rooftops and through the walls of a neon-lit Tokyo, checking in on his surviving buds and his stripper sister (Paz de la Huerta); burrows back into childhood memories; and then emerges (and reemerges) in the most unpredictable places.
Noe’s film is aggressively disorienting, elliptical, crass, and profligate, a literal assault on senses and sensibilities from its seizure-inducing opening credits to the vaguely incestuous ambiguities of its ending, and it’s tough to imagine anyone having an I-can-take-it-or-leave-it response to it. But just as the film takes the first-person view of its transmigrating protagonist, it also represents the singular vision of an ambitious filmmaker who hasn’t played it safe yet (see also: Irreversible).
Noe is but a mere upstart compared to Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chile-born auteur behind ’70s mind-blows El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Those titles circulated only on bad samizdat dubs for years until their recent emergence on DVD; now Santa Sangre, the 1989 third jewel in his triple crown of surrealist cinema, comes to DVD (and Blu-ray) for the first time thanks to Severin Films. It’s the tale of Fenix (played at different ages by Jodorowsky’s sons Adan and Axel), a Mexican circus performer whose mother (Blanca Guerra) heads a quasi-Christian cult that worships an ad hoc saint with no arms. Mom loses her own arms in a bloody domestic dispute; young Fenix loses his mind and enters a sanitarium. Reunited years later, they form a duo act, with Fenix serving as his mother’s arms as they play piano, perform various showbiz and domestic feats, and commit a series of murders at her urging. The literal freak show aspect of this big-top take on Psycho is sure to keep it cult viewing, but Jodorowsky’s uncanny creative instincts remain compelling—the man sure knows how to stage an elephant’s funeral.