Release: 2011-10-27 (Greece wide), 2012-07-13 (US)
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Original title: Alpis (Άλπεις)
Language: Greek, some English
MPAA rating: Not rated but I'd expect R
Cast: Aris Servetalis (Mont Blanc), Angeliki Papoulia (Monte Rosa), Ariane Labed (gymnist), Johnny Vekris (Matterhorn)
Four characters in search of a role
After the rather well received Dogtooth, director Lanthimos and his screenwriting partner Efthymis Filippou returned to action with this feature about a gymnist, her coach, a nurse, and a paramedic who form a collective that provides services to the bereaved. These services involve filling in for the deceased in exchange for money. That's right. They approach the family and persuade them that the transition will be less painful if they are able to pretend that they're interacting with the dear departed in real life. They will wear their clothes, use their names, and act out their roles as though the real person had never existed.
Lanthimos almost repeats himself in the trope of nameless characters. This time, though, the protagonists name themselves after mountains. And these mountains insinuate themselves into the lives of ordinary families who willingly engage in scripted scenes of family life as though there were trying to bring a grainy family video to life. They call their tax-free corporation "Alps" because their leader has this theory that, while nothing could replace an Alp, an Alp is so perfect that it could fill in for any mountain, anywhere. His specious geography goes unchallenged by the others, as does the rest of his peculiar, violent leadership style.
This is a recipe for total absurdity. Alas, the most absurd thing about this film is its inexplicable failure to convey the absurdity of any situation. Alps, in the hands of a competent crew, should have been a gorgeous black comedy or a terrifying trip through human motivation and quack therapists. Instead it's a grey litany of awkward, mismatched scenes. The interactions between the principal characters seem to be gratuitous and pointless and distract from any depth and colour that may be created by watching them with their clients.
It's a bit of a shame that Lanthimos could not do better than this after Dogtooth proved that he does have a gift for turning scripts that are well out of the ordinary into decent cinema. I think he let himself be tripped up by a poor choice of collaborators, especially behind the camera, but the onus is still on him to do better.
Someone in Venice found the heart to throw this film a bone and give it a Golden Osella for the script. Otherwise it went unrecognised and unloved by panels of judges, and deservedly so.
Should you watch it?
I cannot say that I recommend it terribly. Although the script and story have potential, the execution is weak. In particular I found the acting to be wooden and the cinematography uninspiring. Both the settings and the camera positioning often seem to be off and it probably took some pretty creative editing to make it as watchable as it was. You can watch it with low expectations. I like the premise and really wish there were a book that I could read instead of watching this film. It's definitely good for only one-time viewing. Perhaps you should see it just to say that you've watched something with such a bizarre plot.
Film critic style rating: * * (2/5)