J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps


The spirit of enterprise is not completely dead in Greece.  It just manifests itself self in peculiarly dark ways.  A nameless quartet has joined forces to provide a strange service.  They act as stand-ins for recently deceased loved ones.  However, matters get decidedly complicated when one member starts freelancing in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

They call themselves “Alps,” because those mountains often substitute for other ranges in films and TV.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say their leader, “Mount Blanc,” calls them Alps.  He is definitely the one running a show.  Mount Blanc the paramedic and his nurse colleague are obviously well placed to prospect for new clients.  Mount Blanc thinks the parents of a teenaged tennis player not expected to survive an auto accident look like promising candidates, but the nurse decides she wants to take them on solo. 

This is a clear violation of the Alps’ rules.  It also hardly seems practical. The student gymnast (Alps member #3) would be a much better surrogate for the couples’ daughter.  Yet, nobody seems to worry about resemblances or even rudimentary acting ability when employing the troupe.  Simply having a warm body in place of the late family member is apparently sufficient.  Just how well did these people know their dearly beloved?  This is an especially apt question for the couple the nurse hijacks, given the not so subtle clues we are given regarding their relationship with their daughter.

Of course, there are not a lot of healthy relationships in Alps, whether it is the less than encouraging coach (Alps member #4) imperiously overseeing the gymnast’s training, or the increasingly erratic nurse, whose inappropriate overtures to her father he sternly rebukes.  Clearly, Lanthimos will spare the audience little.

Alps is one of those densely compacted films that rather asks for excessive interpretation.  Yes, the line between role-playing and self-delusion can be slippery and identity is a persistently problematic notion.  Nonetheless, sometimes a cigar is really a cigar and not a class conscious statement on Euro-austerity.  In a way, Alps is somewhat akin to David Lynch at his most indulgent, but even Lost Highway gave viewers the trappings of a genre picture to hold onto.  Instead, Alps is mostly a series of uncomfortable episodes, ostensibly rife with significance, produced with an oppressively institutional color palette.

The auteur responsible for the Oscar-nominated Dogtooth, Lanthimos is a filmmaker with a burgeoning international reputation, whose work has to be taken into account by anyone seriously following the world cinema scene.  Still, that does not make Alps anymore fun to watch.  A coldly detached detour into a postmodern blind alley, Alps never makes good on the promise of its legitimately intriguing premise.  Recommended exclusively for Lanthimos’ stalwart champions, Alps opens today (7/13) in New York at the Cinema Village.

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