Was there ever really a way that director Giorgos Lanthimos could top his controversial and divisive Dogtooth? His latest film, Alps, suggests perhaps not, but the Greek master of the unconventional and the bizarre has once again crafted up another formal experiment that resembles its predecessor’s tone and style. Alps is the name of an underground company comprised of a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast, and her coach. Hired by relatives of the deceased, the group stands in for dead people by appointment. If anyone can make this awkward predicament feel both human and horrific, it’s Lanthimos, whose films cast the most assured sense of control despite the director’s often sinister approach. As a follow-up to Dogtooth, Alps at times feels misguided in its depiction of the real and the “unreal,” but it’s fueled by tiny inserts of hope that make it less shocking than one might expect; it progressively gets under your skin in the most baffling of ways.
As a spiritual relative to Dogtooth, Lanthimos’s latest offers much of the same shock and dead-pan humor that made his prior film so memorable. While Alps isn’t as captivating, it possesses a striking depiction of ritual acting in regards to the players involved within this twisted world, unbeknownst to them the chaos that awaits such an act. The narrative unravels as a riddle as its structure and thematics are far more trivial than those present in Dogtooth. While the latter was a film about breaking free from an unconventionally dominated familial environment, Alps is about characters endlessly trying to create and enter one. While it’s somewhat of an ensemble, the central character is an unhappy nurse, played by Aggeliki Papoulia, also seen in Dogtooth. Longing for a true connection outside of her mundane existence, the nurse is able to find some comfort in her various roles for Alps. She finds herself primarily standing in as the teenage daughter of a grief stricken couple. Her, and the other members of Alps have to often memorize lines of dialogue related to the specific person they’re portraying in order for their performance to feel authentic in the eyes of the family that has hired them. The problem with Alps is that this intriguing concept feels way to underdeveloped, while the domineering world of Dogtooth actually felt plausible given Lanthimos’ deft touch and execution.
This is precisely the point of Alps, as its portrait of a world driven mad by role-playing, identity, and relationships is handled gracefully. Not all attempts at pursuing the various persona’s are successful. In fact, the leader of Alps, who wishes to be called “Mont Blanc,” will hand out punishment if need be, much like the father in Dogtooth. Alps isn’t shy about diving knee-deep into Western pop culture, similar to Dogtooth in its random mimicry of iconic American figures. Morgan Freeman, Prince, Winona Ryder, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and various others are mentioned throughout, further hinting at the role-playing nature of the titular group and Lanthimos’s odd fascination with celebrity. Lanthimos isn’t lacking ambition, but he isn’t a man likely to show his cards right away. It could be said that there are actually a few cards missing from this deck, as Alps takes its time in letting its story, or “semblance” of a story take shape. For how detached and alienating the proceedings may seem, the film is oddly rewarding in what it chooses to reveal compositionally regarding its group of stand-ins and their blind sacrifices toward becoming someone else in order to feel something. It’s simply a film that needs to be seen, not so much for its cold conviction, but for its pulsating originality. Mr. Lanthimos, you have my attention.
– Ty Landis