Kino Lorber Films
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriter: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Cast: Aggeliki Papoulia, Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed, Stavros Psillakis, Efthijmis Filippou, Maria Kirozi
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/18/12
Opens: July 13, 2012
Yorgos Lanthimos is in his element with “Alps,” his previous work, “Dogtooth” (“Kynodontas”)” taking root with a crazy father’s creating an insane world for his teen family, prohibiting their leaving the estate and teaching them only what he believes is important. For the teens, escape from a fantasy into reality is a goal. By contrast, for some residents of “Alps,” escape into fantasy and away from reality is the goal.
“Alps,” or “Alpies” in the Greek, has nowhere near the entertainment value of “Dogtooth” but given Lanthimos’s vivid imagination and his connection to ancient Greek tragedies in which performers wear masks to symbolize their staged identities, this barely accessible film can be appreciated by buffs if not necessarily loved.
As co-written by Efthimis Filippou, in Greek with English titles (and some spoken English), “Alps” takes us to the bleak atmosphere of a hospital in an unnamed Greek city. A likewise unnamed cast of characters including a nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia), a paramedic (Aris Servetalis), a coach (Johnny Vekris) and a gymnast (Ariane Labed) are members of a secretive club called Alps—so named to disguise its mission and because the Alps mountains can stand in for others like Mount McKinley. Club members under the direction of the paramedic hire themselves out to bereaved families, taking on the identities of the recently departed folks, acting out the dead persons’ narratives to comfort the survivors but, even more aptly, to allow the survivors to let loose their resentments against the poor souls who have left them.
In one of the tale’s more dramatic scenes, the rail-thin gymnast goes through her steps in extended scenes—Lanthimos is nothing if not patient—begging the coach to allow her use a pop music background instead of the classical beat for which the coach believes she is unready. (This serves as practice for the gymnast’s job of playing the dead character for the latter’s parents.) In the story’s most important segment, the nurse assumes the role of a 16-year-old tennis player (Maria Kirozi), who dies after a car accident but who has apparently been the victim of her parents’ temper as well as we can see by the way the surrogate is treated.
Signifying the permeability of identity in much the way the ancients did under the writing of such greats as Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, “Alps” has elements of Luigi Piradello, a forerunner of Theater of the Absurd who in his play “Henry IV” locates a historian taking part in a pageant commemorating the monarch’s life and who, after injuring himself by a fall from his horse imagines himself to be that king. Lanthimos takes his permeability of identity so far that the gymnast nearly loses her life by hanging herself—as presumably did the person who life she is re-enacting.
Ariane Labed is a marvel to watch as the gymnast, whose double-jointed stretches, for example placing her leg back and over her shoulder to meet at her chest, are most impressive. As the nurse, Aggeliki Papoulia anchors the film as the one independent member of the Alps group, who ignores the rules “no intimacy with clients” and “no deviation from the script” to suffer a blow to the face that requires stitches and a forcible evacuation from the home of her client. She goes so far into her new identity that she substitutes for her own dead mother, making a sexual advance with her dad (Stavros Psillakis) with untoward consequences. “Alps” could benefit from a second look by audience members who may watch more closely as the more opaque symbols strewn about.
Unrated. 93 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B-