Dogville (2003, Lars von Trier)
It might be worth asking: when do we say that something doesn’t exist? Is it when we don’t see it, or when we don’t hear it, or when we act as though it didn’t exist? Depending on your answer to this question, Dogville has or hasn’t walls and doors and dogs in it. It certainly has people, good, honest, “normal” folks, caring and sensitive, until given power over another human being. Then they gradually discover the pleasures of casually torturing the weak, while many of them still convinced that they are actually helping, or even saving their victim. You can read many points into this, political, religious, social, and pretty much all of them will be right, nevermind that Trier hinted at his own take by calling this the first film of his trilogy about the USA. The surprise of the film is of course Nicole Kidman, and certainly not because of her acting, which is poor here as elsewhere, but because of how perfectly her stunning, cold and slightly arrogant beauty fits the character Grace. In the end, raise your hands thee who didn’t cheer her during the final mass-murder, maybe even when she readily draws a parallel between tea-cups breaking and children being shot. Oh, the most fun I had observing how Trier did the exact opposite of all of his dogma-rules.
Kynodontas – Dogtooth (2009, Giorgos Lanthimos)
This is an absolutely unique little masterpiece that can be interpreted in all so many ways (I must confess there is probably nothing more I appreciate in a film than this freedom). A couple keeps their children completely confined to their house and garden (possibly to protect them from the corruption etc. of the outside world, but…we are not really told), telling them a series of absurd stories about man-eating cats, long lost brothers, airplanes and Frank Sinatra. The children, now young adults, act out in uncanny manner that makes us laugh and be ashamed of it. The genius struck of the story is change in semantics operated by the parents on ordinary language, some of it understandable as to why they would do it (sexual terms are casually defined as little yellow flowers or keyboards), but some completely out of the blue, and some not even clear from the context. Sometimes you just feel you’re missing some point and you have to assume it’s the alternative semantics at work, but nobody delivers the viewer with neatly packed explanations at any point. The film succeeds in showing both why and how these sorts of overall manipulations can be so successful (again, they can be political, religious, ideological in any sense, your choice), and why and how they eventually fail because they disregard or deny various aspects of reality.
Wag the Dog (1997, Barry Levinson)
Good political satire with some wonderful acting that offers us the opportunity to laugh at a serious situation that we cannot control in any way, but we can still recognize how fake it is and we can poke fun at it to ease the pain of our own impotence about it. Media, politics, Hollywood, manipulation and all the rest, bla-bla-bla.
Sobachye Serdtse – Heart of Dog (1988, Vladimir Bortko)
Bulgakov’s story made into film, about a stray dog transformed into a human being in laboratory conditions, and all the limits and consequences of trying to become something we are not.
Amorres Perros (2000, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu)
Iñaritu’s true self (supposing he has one, which is wrong, anyway, I will insist on that because I want to believe his true self is not manifest in Babel) delivered this well-written, well-acted, nicely entangled story about love and dogfights and maybe fate (not sure about the last one). It has such energy and feeling and character that it portrays South American spirit for me. I know, I know, this is presumptuous and stereotyping but I cannot help it, and I honestly only mean well.