Going into ‘Alps’, it’s both important and also a hinderance to have Giorgos Lanthimos’ prior film ‘Dogtooth’ in the back of your mind. On the one hand, Lanthimos is again working in the realm of absurdist black comedy/social commentary, so knowing what type of movie the man makes is a help, but at the same time it’s such a different side of that coin that you might wind up disappointed, depending on how much you liked his last film. I found ‘Alps’ to be a step down from that flick, but it’s still a very good riddle of a film. It’s just as surreal, but it tones down the disturbing sexual content and tackles things in a much subtler style. In a strange sort of way, this is even a more accessible film. It’s still unsettling and very weird, but ‘Alps’ is quieter and has a different sort of sadness to it. I think the movie may be frustrating for some, but it has more than a few rewards in store for the patient viewer. A little less vagueness would have helped me embrace the film even more, but perhaps that’s the point. In any case, I definitely liked it a lot and recommend it to any adventurous filmgoers out there who can embrace this decidedly unusual premise.
The plot centers around 4 people who start a business that centers around being hired by grieving individuals to impersonate a recently deceased family member or friend. The title of the film is actually the name of the company they start (so ALPS, technically). The leader (Aris Servetalis) is an ambulance driver, while his cohorts/employees are a young girl who’s a gymnast (Ariane Labed), her coach (Johnny Vekris), and finally a nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia). They each take on pseudonyms of the mountains in the Alps, notably with the ambulance driver becoming Mont Blanc and the nurse becoming Monte Rosa. We mainly follow Monte Rosa as she impersonates a young tennis player and an English speaking lover for the grief stricken, but we also see her unsatisfying home life, which suggests an intense connection to this job that the others don’t have. The thing is, the tennis player impersonation isn’t done through the group, and Mont Blanc has strict rules, so the system is about to collapse for everyone.
The acting is solid, but I wasn’t blown away by anyone here. Aggeliki Papoulia is the best of the bunch and the one with the most screen time, but she was more affecting in ‘Dogtooth’ to me. She’s good here, but up until the final act she’s a bit too insular. I don’t have a major issue with this, but it’s a choice that keeps her from being too impressive. Aris Servetalis is suitably intimidating when the times call for it, but he disappears or long stretches and is a presence more than anything else in the film. Ariane Labed and Johnny Vekris have smaller parts as the other members of the group, and neither are memorable. They all happen to ably play bad actors in terms of their characters, so that’s something I guess. This isn’t a movie meant to be acting-centric though, so it’s not a big deal overall.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Giorgos Lanthimos has some cinematic calling cards that we can recognize. Again, he picks up his story just as the system he’s created is beginning to be messed with and ultimately broken down (the sheltered reality in ‘Dogtooth’ getting disrupted and the evolving nature of the independent dealings of Monte Rosa from the company here). Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou have again come up an ingenious idea to base a movie around, and once they have the universe created, they sort of just let their characters loose in the world and observe where they go from there. Things get a little repetitive at times, but that’s kind of the point and is part of the commentary on people unsatisfied with their lives looking to inhabit someone else’s for a little while. In terms of his direction, it’s very simple and focuses a lot here on silence and moments of nothing happening. It might be annoying to many, but it again kind of hits home on the point of the movie itself here. He’s a skilled director, often capable of surprising and shocking his audience, and that’s the case in spades here. Aside from the concept itself, watching Giorgos Lanthimos play with his themes is the best part of the film. He’s an expert puppet master and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Anyone who latched on to ‘Dogtooth’ when it came out a few years ago will likely find a lot to like about ‘Alps’, but it’s certainly niche fare and not for everyone. Human relationships obviously fascinate Giorgos Lanthimos, and his fractured take on them is quite interesting. This may not be quite as out there as his last work, but I’m eager to see the masterpiece that I know he has in him. It’s coming one day, and when that day arrives, it won’t take a special committee of Academy members to nominate his work, it’ll just get in on merits alone. Until that time, you can easily make due with ‘Alps’, one of the most intriguing films of the year. It’s a black comedy with a lot to say, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks they can take it.
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!