[Review] – Alps

12 Aug

Title: Alps
Year: 2012
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Giorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Aggeliki Papoulia, Stavros Psyllakis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 93 min
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Metacritic: 71

Giorgos Lanthimos burst into the scene a couple years ago with his film Dogtooth, the film that won him the Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and that subsequently became only the fifth Greek film to ever be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. I caught onto that film a bit late, a few months after it got that Oscar nomination, but I really, really loved it. I thought it was just remarkably original, super tense in just how dark and weird it was and yet still incredibly captivating that you couldn’t look away for one second, and it really, really established Mr. Lanthimos as a voice to watch in modern cinema.

So of course when I found out that he had a new film out, this one called Alps, I made a point to get to see it as soon as possible, not wanting to have another gem of a movie elude me for so long. Now, to be fair this one isn’t as good as Dogtooth, that has to be said straight away, but what it is is another remarkably unique movie from a singular talent that demands your attention, that will have you staring at it in some kind of awe. And nowadays, when cineplexes are so filled with inessential fodder, that’s the kind of stuff that you just need once in a while.

That kind of sense that you’re watching something totally bizarre and more-than-slightly off will no doubt make you think about the director’s previous effort, even if Mr. Lanthimos has said that Alps is the complete opposite of Dogtooth, that this one is about “a person who tries to enter a fabricated world” as opposed to Dogtooth which he says is about “a person who tries to escape a fictitious world”. But there is indeed some sort of parallel to be found between the two, if only just because of how weird this one also is and how much you simply can’t look away; the fact that Mr. Lanthimos has managed to achieve that with two films he says are totally opposite is only a testament to his skills.

As a film itself, Alps is kind of great, actually. It’s a film that deals with the absurd, that continues to show that Mr. Lanthimos has a real knack for a unique brand of dark comedy, that’s tragic and that shows a really distinct vision of human connections. I just really liked what this film achieved, especially because not once does it lose its footing, it maintains its tone no matter how much stuff it’s handling. Oh, and if you want to know what makes it so weird, here’s the basic plot outline: there’s an underground organization that helps mourners to get over their losses by impersonating the deceased. Weird, I know.

The name of said organization is Alps, and it really is just what it sounds, its four members are tasked with impersonating dead people for the obscure relief of those who are mourning them. We are told that Alps is the name of the organization because, for one, nothing about that word would indicate people as to what they actually do, but also because the Alps are at once uniquely the Alps and no other mountain could stand in its place, but at the same time the Alps could pass for any other kind of mountain. It’s just weird, you know, every scene has this kind of deadpan disconnect and yet presented to us as totally normal, but you if you manage buy into it the result of the film is pretty awesome.

The film, much like Dogtooth, is especially weird because it just likes to alter our notion of what is normal and what is effed up as far as the stuff we do when we interact with each other. It poses all of these questions, like if a family would really be relieved if they had an actor that they’re paying turn up a couple of times a week at their place to impersonate their dead relative, and what’s cool is that it never once offers up a response to that question, is just refuses to explain and just wants you to go along with it and get into their world full of these weird premises about identity and emotions.

We never really delve into what the people who contract the Alps experience, we only see them peripherally, and we just know that they’re in desperate need. We get to see it all through the eyes of the Alps, we get to see just how lonely a job it is for them to essentially become stand-ins for someone’s who’s gone and try to imitate them. And it’s all really wonderfully constructed by Mr. Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou who make these scenes feel relaxed while at the same time going through some very specific machinations, it’s all just so subtly done and it feels really great.

Watching this film is truly a unique experience, much like watching Dogtooth was. Mr. Lanthimos brings out these really weird intellectual kind of questions that he doesn’t really worry himself with answering, and yet the actors that he chose to play this kooky organization, especially Aggeliki Papoulia, do a lot to bring out the emotion that’s battling inside these people doing these tasks. Those performances are what keep Alps from feeling detached, what show us the cracks underneath the surface. Allow yourself to really get into this movie, and you’ll be wowed.

Grade: A-

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