A cold if intellectual exercise that experiments with the notion of coping with grief through role-playing, but it doesn’t really push all the right buttons.
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
2011 | Greece | Drama | 93 mins | 2.35:1 | Greek & English
Not rated (likely to be R21 for mature themes, sexuality and nudity)
Cast: Stavros Psyllakis, Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris
Plot: A group of people start a business where they impersonate the recently deceased in order to help their clients through the grieving process.
Awards: Won Best Screenplay (Venice)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Mature/Slightly Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on DVD)
Unless you are a die-hard fan of hotshot Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos you might not have seen Alps, a film he made between Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015). You are not missing much, however, as Alps is a relatively minor work.
Yet it somehow won Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival, perhaps in recognition of how peculiar this film is. It is nowhere as challenging as his breakout work, Dogtooth, but conceptually Alps is almost its antithesis.
If Dogtooth is a film about oppression and containment, Alps is its more liberated cousin, featuring a quartet of eccentric characters—two nurses and a coach and his young trainee—who form a secret group-cum-business in which the film is named after.
This ‘Alps’ group does something out of the ordinary, providing a role-playing service to family members to help them cope with grief from the loss of their loved one. The film mostly centers on one of the nurses (played by Dogtooth’s Angeliki Papoulia), whom we follow as she impersonates someone else’s dead daughter, lover, etc.
“You’re the best coach in the world. You are the king of coaches.”
On paper, it is borderline absurd and illogical that such a notion might help someone in the grieving process. But Lanthimos wants us to trust his vision and process, and if you can get on its wavelength, Alps might just work out as a dark, surreal comedy. If not, like me, you will find it to be a cold if intellectual exercise.
Intentionally distancing itself from all manner of emotions, Alps is also shot in a slightly unpolished handheld style, sometimes under ‘poor’ lighting conditions, which make it less formal a work than you might expect.
In a number of scenes, clients would ask the role-player to remember some lines to mutter at a precise moment—these are awkward moments that are delivered almost robotically. It might be funny if you are in the mood.
However, I feel that apart from a weaker grasp of tone, Lanthimos’ experimentation here also doesn’t really push all the right buttons and might even feel narratively incomplete, yet it is easy to forgive the filmmaker for sticking to his guns and toying with idiosyncratic ideas.