Alps (aka Alpeis)

Aggeliki Papoulia in Alps

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

3 August

 

Jesse Owens wins the 100 metres, 1936

On this day in 1936, Jesse Owens won the 100 metres at a race meeting hosted by Adolf Hitler, a man who believed the black man was inferior to the white man. It was one of four gold medals Owens won at the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936, and it put the hat on a great year for Owens, who had set three world records in less than an hour the previous year at the Big Ten track meeting, which has since been called “the greatest 45 minutes in sport”. Hitler did not shake the hand of Owens to congratulate him, but then Hitler didn’t shake any of the victors’ hands after the first day, having decided after a “shake all or shake none” instruction from the Olympic committee that he’d shake none. Whether Hitler stormed out after Owens’s 100 metres victory is moot, though Owens later asserted that Hitler did wave to him from his box – “He waved at me and I waved back”. Owens later also pointed out that President Roosevelt – wary about losing southern votes – never invited him to the White House. “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

 

 

 

Alps (2011, dir: Giorgos Lanthimos)

Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to Dogtooth is an altogether trickier beast. If Dogtooth told the story of a weird upbringing in a slightly less than straightforward way, Alps for a good long time is hard to get any handle on at all. In scene one we meet a gymnast (Ariane Labed) practising for an event, who has the temerity to suggest to her coach how her training might proceed. He responds by threatening her with extreme violence. In scene two, entirely unconnected, we meet a doctor comforting parents whose daughter is in a mortal condition. But instead of talking about the patient or that family, the doctor starts to babble on about her own life, how she likes to play tennis too. It’s all very perplexing. Things carry on in this vein, with things not quite adding up and characters behaving in ways that don’t seem appropriate for the situation. At one point people stop speaking in Greek and start talking in stilted English; at another the members of the athletics team drop their own names and each takes the name of an Alpine summit. Well that’s the film’s title explained, at least. But what the hell is going on? It’s usual at this point to say “all becomes clear” or something similar. Except in Alps clarity is always just out of reach. Though as these baffling scenes pile up it does seem to become possible that we’re watching a film about surrogates, in the mould of Holy Motors maybe, a possibility that becomes more likely once we get the orienting scene where the doctor offers to come around to the grieving parents’ house a couple of times a week and pretend to be their dead daughter. It is all a very odd, rather remote story and Lanthimos matches the idea to the visuals, his framing always slightly off, with bits of door frames or other objects often breaking up the frame, shallow depth of focus, shots held for deliberately too long.
I’ll admit I never quite got a handle on the film. If it’s saying that we’re all kind of sleepwalking through life, living according to pre-written scripts, well that’s a bit crass, isn’t it? In Dogtooth Lanthimos tried a similar narrative approach, and right near the end he dropped the “ahaa” scene where everything was explained. In Alps I don’t think it ever comes, or if it did I missed it, or I saw it and it failed to register, or I registered it but it didn’t do it for me. Does this matter, is the question. I’m not sure it does, entirely. The film would be mysterious even if it played out entirely comprehensibly, without Lanthimos holding his cards so close to his chest. But its oddness does give rise to the sort of laughs that die as they’re being born. And its notion of surrogates is a fascinating one. Go for Dogtooth is you fancy an easier ride.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Second film by the talented Lanthimos
  • The beautifully cool cinematography by Christos Voudouris (Before Midnight)
  • Existential, and then some
  • Tricksy, but it works

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Alps – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Alps (aka Alpeis)”

  1. With the singularly compelling premise of a mysterious group offering to take over the roles of recently deceased people to provide relief for their loved ones, it came as quite the shock to me that Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos's follow-up to his 2009 Oscar-nominated "Dogtooth" (one of my all-time favorites) ultimately failed at living up to its concept.

    Throughout the entirety of "Alps", I felt I was gazing in awe at a beautiful seed sadly incapable of germination. The film barely got anywhere while maintaining an incredibly slow pace and irritating visual style consisting of incessantly restrained deep-focus cinematography. There was so much potential wasted on scenes far too peculiar and insignificant to add any depth to the story or further develop the characters. Seldom did anything rightfully earn its place in the film; the multiple sex scenes seemed to be there with the sole purpose of being extremely awkward and obscene, while all the attempts at absurd humor felt slightly forced and weren't as effective as they should have been due to the narrative's intermittent solemnity.

    This brings me to the film's greatest problem, which was that— on top of struggling to find its own voice and tone in its ridiculously irrational approach— it never really figured out what message it wanted to convey to its audience. Evidently Lanthimos was trying to say something about human nature and the craziness of consumer society, but he didn't succeed in delivering his thoughts coherently this time around. I hate comparing, but I must say I found the profound social critique that seeped through the bizarre surface of "Dogtooth" to be far superior in elaboration.

    The end result of "Alps" was a confused, detached (albeit well-acted, especially by Aggeliki Papoulia) jumble beyond anyone's realm of comprehension, so overwhelmingly filled with unjustified senselessness that the most I could do was simply sit and stare at the screen, patiently awaiting some real substance, only to be disappointed by sheer staleness.

    I suppose I somewhat admired "Alps" for all that it could've been following its eccentric uniqueness, but I can't see how anyone in their right mind could have truly enjoyed it.

  2. The title Alps refers to a fairly mysterious secret society of the same name in Yorgos Lanthimos' follow up to the hugely successful Dogtooth. I entered the film not knowing much about it, and I think that's the best way for the movie to unfold for you, as a mystery. I think mystery in general is Lanthimos' best gift here, Alps is a movie that really lets you take your own view, leaves pieces of the jigsaw out and sparks all sorts of different thoughts. I think I also felt that there's a seedling of hope and compassion in the movie amongst an existential debris of pragmatic, valueless and selfish individuals, which to my mind makes it a lighter experience than Dogtooth (although most critics have said otherwise). I think it's sad that, what I think are quite serious films, are mainly sold by relating to their shock or comedy value. The sequel-itis contagion requires a sequel to be darker, so to some extent people have spun this film as Dogtooth 2 – RABID! There's an aesthetic inversion in the sense that Lanthimos has Dogtooth containing characters trying to escape from an artificial environment, and in Alps characters are trying to create them. They're both about "existential malaise", but other than that, perhaps should be treated quite separately.

    "Winter swimmers never feel the cold." is a phrase that comes up in the movie. I think that a lot of folk here have got inured to soulless living. The people who the society focus on live out the past, and only value others in terms of what they can give to them, or how they make them feel, they're devoid of altruism. As in Dogtooth there's scenes of characters apeing iconic dream factory roles, the folks here are small compared to the objects of their obsession. People are trying so hard to be better than others, that they end up alone.

    Difficult to talk exactly about the movie without spoilers, but I think my take was that the main message is that redemption comes via self-sacrifice, that people should grow up and be adults (western societies have pushed back the assuming of adulthood later and later). As in Dogtooth, there's a specifically Grecian comment about the old feeding off the young (though perhaps this will resonate elsewhere).

    The character that I want to hug is Monte Rosa (Aggeliki Papoulia), I think she takes a beautiful journey, the journey to altruism.

  3. What happens when people insist on controlling one another? When they see the other only in terms of roles and obligations, not as individuals? When the primary interaction between those with power in relationships and those without is that the powerful take what they want, insist on conventional behavior from others and deny the weaker ones their desires and opportunities. When those denied must submit or die? What are the effects of even small acts of kindness? What is the effect of really seeing the other. Satisfying individual needs? This movie aims directly at the intellect and the gut, using a strikingly unusual metaphor as storyline. If you read the other reviews, you'll see it leaves many disappointed, irritated and confused. If you love patterns and puzzles you may enjoy this. Eventually. During the movie I was repeatedly briefly enraged, mostly just puzzled. Immediately after watching it, I wondered why the director thought he was entitled to waste 90 minutes of his viewer's lives with such coldness, sterility and artifice. By the time I woke up the next morning, the pieces began to fall into place. The actions and interactions of the gymnast and trainer during the first and last scenes, and the reason that the two scenes differ, encapsulate everything. After a lot of thought and piecing together, I see the movie as a brilliant piece of art. Unpleasantly, disturbingly, heart-rendingly brilliant.

  4. Greek screenwriter, producer and director Yorgos Lanthimos' fourth feature film which he co-wrote with screenwriter Efthimis Filippou and co-produced, premiered In competition at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011, was screened in the Visions section at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, was shot on location in Greece and is a Greek production which was produced by producer Athina Rachel Tsangari. It tells the story about a ballet coach, his female student, an ambulance driver and a nurse named Anna who runs a private business which is led by one of the males.

    Distinctly and precisely directed by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, this rhythmic fictional tale which is narrated from multiple viewpoints though mostly from one of the central female character's point of view, draws a quiet and diverse portrayal of four members of a group consisting of two men and two women who has named themselves "Alps" and who offers people consolation in their grief by substituting for their loved ones who has passed away. While notable for it's naturalistic and mostly interior milieu depictions, sterling production design by production designer Anna Georiadou, cinematography by cinematographer Christos Voudouris, distinct use of light, dialog within dialog and acting within acting, this character-driven story depicts an acute study of character and contains a timely and efficient score.

    This cinematic, situational and theatrically remarkable mystery drama which is set in Greece and where pretending to be a non-existing person and putting a shield on one's innate human emotions takes a toll on the only person in the group who thinks outside the box, is impelled and reinforced by it's cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, subtle continuity, rare characters, versatile perspectives, poignant and naturally occurring humor and ingenious acting performances by actresses Ariane Labed, Aggeliki Papoulia and actors Ares Servitales and Johnny Veksris. A sociological, minimalistic, cinematographic and invigorating character piece which underlines the hardships of being an actor or actress, the distinction between fiction and reality and which gained, among other awards, the Golden Osella for Best Screenplay Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011.

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