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November 04, 2012

Starz Denver Film Festival 2012 - The Alps

Alps 1.jpg

Giorgos Lanthimos - 2011
Kino Lorber Films

The main characters of Alps do not live in an enclosed space as did the family of Giorgos Lanthimos' previous film, Dogtooth. Maybe they should. The quartet of two men and two women have taken on as pseudonyms the names of mountains which they use to address each other, and abide be idiosyncratic rules. The four act as substitutes for recently deceased people, theoretically to assist in the grieving process. What they do is appear at a person's home for a couple of hours, repeat a few phrases, dress in a similar manner, and sometimes act out scenes from the deceased person's life.

The company is called Alps because of its formidable connotations as well as disguising what the company does. Lanthimos describes this new film as the opposite of Dogtooth As he stated in an interview, "Dogtooth is the story of a person who tries to escape a fictitious world. Alps is about a person who tries to enter a fabricated world."

In this case, it is a nurse who loses her sense of identity impersonating a high school tennis player.

alps 2.jpg

We see the four in various situations, playing their parts. The scenes recreated from the past are not always happy occasions. There are several sexually awkward scenes that are staged for the clients, including a woman discovering her husband in bed with her best friend, and a husband and wife who follow a heated argument with threats of separation with a session of cunnilingus. Lanthimos pokes a hole in the notion that what the most significant memories are of "happy times".

To describe Alps as black comedy might set up inappropriate expectations, yet the film gradually adds moments that are peculiarly comic. In one scene, a young gymnast, the other female member of the Alps, is seen hanging upside down, repeating some lines from her "script" that were forgotten, much to the chagrin of a client. When the young tennis player, almost comatose following an automobile accident, is visited by the nurse, her hand is propped in such a way to hold up a racquet, while the nurse tosses balls to the unresponsive girl.

Not unlike its title, Alps is at first a difficult to approach film. It took me a little while to follow what was going on, how the characters were related to each other, as if surveying a landscape in a roundabout manner. This is the kind of film that rewards the patience of those who have little problem with ambiguity and loose threads.

Lanthimos makes sure the audience is awake with the bombastic strains of "Carmina Burana" on the soundtrack, played while the gymnast performs a dance routine. Even more than Dogtooth there is a lot of dancing here, older couples doing the tango, and furious contorted solos to rock music. The film ends with the proto-disco instrumental, "Popcorn". Like popcorn, the characters in Giorgos Lanthimos' films are ready to explode, in all different directions, within a small space barely big enough to contain them.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 4, 2012 08:24 AM