Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Aggeliki Papoulia, Ariane Labed
Run Time: 93 minutes
Release: November 9th
As clear as mud; as simple as pie. Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest feature comes off as the idiosyncratic sequel to his much lauded Dogtooth (2009). However, while the director considers it somewhat the opposite, Alps certainly plays with the surreality of character and theme. Indeed, how these two factors interact and juxtapose could be considered Alps’ finest conundrum.
A group of awkward and socially inept people come together to offer a unique service to the grieving relatives of newly deceased people. For a nominal fee, they will impersonate the dead in order to soothe the bereaved. When one of the members steps outside the boundaries of this amoral framework, a job becomes an introspective crisis. As plots go, this one is fairly off the wall.
Nonetheless, Lanthimos carries it off with an earnest and enigmatic enquiry. The viewer can’t help but be taken into the lives of people who have no lives. From the opening scene—wherein the gymnast pines to dance to popular music—to a scene where our de facto protagonist attempts to dance with her father, the audience is reminded that for an ensemble piece, Alps is characteristically characterless. As the two ideas of character and theme come to a crescendo, a crisis of identity exhumes the depths of tragedy and despair that lurk throughout the entire film.
This aesthetic is carefully considered and painfully executed. Silence, vacant stares and jagged acting allow a surreal space within which there is no tone expressed, but a surprising mood evoked, achieved through the void of personality within the characters. Group meetings are governed by Mount Blanc, a man who is so powerfully bland that when he steps outside prediction, it is truly jarring. Following suit, the rest of the players derive their code names from Alpine mountains, allowing a handy metaphor of cold, baron and bleak ridges of despair. Divorced and wilfully separated from their own lives, the characters begin to solely purport a life that is neither theirs nor there. After a while, they cease to exist in reality. This effectively trickles across the screen and similarly distorts and alienates the audience’s consumption of Lanthimos’ vision.
Finally, it is the overt simplicity in presentation that cements Alps as an art house contender and Lanthimos as a looming giant inside the community. This is a film that is sure in its position and driven in its ambiguity. There is a purposeful sincerity in the depression that is both uplifting and heavily thought provoking. That being said, the clarity of Alps is murky. Unfortunately there is no way of telling if that was but another attempt to jolt the crowd into attention.