Giorgos Lanthimos on 'Dogtooth'

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The Greek director talks of his love of Bresson and his hatred of festival schmoozing

Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos has gone on to nab plaudits around the globe for his claustrophobic and surreal family drama ‘Dogtooth’, his second film after 2005’s micro-budget chamber drama ‘Kinetta’.

The obvious question to ask about ‘Dogtooth’, such a mysterious film, is: what’s it all about?
‘I find it very hard to talk about and analyse this film. People are always trying to get me to confirm their point of view, and I just won’t do it. If I wanted to talk about politics or social problems, I’d become a writer. But I’m a filmmaker and that’s all I can do.
I try to make my films very open so you can think whatever you want about them, then when people ask me, I can just agree.’

Reviews of ‘Dogtooth’ have compared it to the works of Haneke, Kubrick and Herzog. Do you see yourself as a film buff?
‘Well, not really, but I do watch a lot of films. I do like these directors, but for me, the two people who inspire me the most are Bresson and Cassavetes. I watch their work repeatedly, and every time I just find myself staring at the screen and saying, “How the hell can you make such a film?!” I’m really in awe of these directors, but at the same time, I don’t claim to “get” their movies, and there’s something I like about that.’

Was ‘Dogtooth’ an easy film to get made in Greece?
‘There aren’t that many films made in Greece, full stop, and the ones that do get made are usually very commercial and aimed at TV audiences and contain known actors. I got a bit of money from the Greek government for production, but most of the people on “Dogtooth” had to work for free. I had to ask many favours.’

Is there a thriving arthouse cinema scene in Greece?
‘We do get a lot of arthouse and foreign films playing in Athens. We get to see films that are in Cannes and have been in major festivals, but there are only one or two cinemas that would show these films. “Dogtooth” was released in two cinemas there, and it did pretty well.’

The film has been well received at a number of international film festivals. Do you enjoy the festival trail?
‘Festivals are definitely useful for a film like this as it gets to be seen in so many countries around the world which opens it up for distribution. Personally, the experience of travelling with the film is very tough. I just can’t handle all the things you’ve got to do to promote the film, where you have to go to functions and speak to people and meet people… All these lunches, parties, press conferences – I really find that very exhausting.’

Dogtooth’ gives the impression you have an interest in things like semantics, philosophy and radical theatre.
‘Not in the sense of really studying and researching them, but I think that my films come out of wondering about these things. “Dogtooth” is not a film that came from an image or a story I’d heard; it’s mostly the result of time spent wondering about human perception, and about whether people understand the world they’re living in.’

Have you had any offers from Hollywood? Would you accept them?
‘No, I have had lots of meetings but no real offers. But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t consider one if it came my way and felt it was right for me. I’d like to make an English-language project, but part of that would be so I could make smaller, more personal films back in Greece.’

Read our review of ‘Dogtooth'.

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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