Details: 93 mins, Greece,
Synopsis: Alps follows a secret club whose members are paid to act as replacements for the recently deceased – going into their homes, impersonating them, getting uncomfortably intimate with the bereaved. It's part therapy, part theatre, with more than a hint of prostitution. A young member (Aggeliki Papoulia) takes her awkward roleplaying perhaps too seriously, while quietly rebelling against the group's sadistic leader (Aris Servetalis). Alps posits a surreal world where human connection is a commodity, but real, painful emotion lurks between the lines.
A unique, Greek take on the idea of grief.
It’s a treatise on the nature of performance, and how actors subordinate themselves [...] to the demands of a role.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The title is key. ‘Alps’ refers not the mountains, but to a group, based in contemporary Athens, who have assembled to offer a single, specific service. The choice of name, according to their leader, is deliberate: for one thing, it offers no hint as to their activities. More importantly, however, it signifies something vast and formidable. “No other mountains can be replaced by Alps,” he notes. “But Alps can replace any other mountain.” Because they’re bigger, more imposing, somehow innately better.
And this theme—of substitution, of replacement—is key to the plot. About which, it’s safe to say, one’s appreciation runs inversely proportionate to one’s foreknowledge. Suffice it to say that the families who enlist the members of Alps are like a little the man who, after his dog dies, buys an identical breed to replace it, hoping to defer the sadness of its passing with the distraction of another, almost identical presence.
But no two dogs are ever the same, alas—and the dissonance between the original and the copy becomes the engine of this story, which seems to borrow some of its ideas from Tom McCarthy’s acclaimed 2006 novel ‘Remainder’.
Tellingly, their leader takes the code-name Mont Blanc; the others are distinctly smaller peaks. Nevertheless, it’s one of these subordinates who catches our eye, a nurse who calls herself Monte Rosa. Who, for reasons that are never fully explained, goes rogue—taking an assignment without informing the rest of the group—and ultimately pays the price for this transgression. (Mont Blanc’s Cotton Mather-like judgment—involving a club that may or may not turn red, and thereby confirm her guilt—is this film’s darkest and funniest moment.)
The second feature from Greek auteur Giorgos Lanthimos, it displays the same cerebral, alienated tone as his excellent 2009 debut, Dogtooth. Gradually, as the plot clarifies, the film becomes a meditation on many things: the stages of grieving; sexual role-playing; the bonds of family. But above all, it’s a treatise on the nature of performance, and how actors subordinate themselves—with varying degrees of commitment and success—to the demands of a role.
It’s telling, in this respect, that the film should come from Greece, whose Classical dramatic tradition favoured the use of masks, paradoxically, to expose essential truths about human behaviour. Monte Rosa is so divorced from her own desires, such a tabula rasa, that even giving herself sexually to her ‘co-actors’ is nothing; her own Self barely exists. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that by the end she’s little more than a robot, repeating her lines monotonously on an empty stage, even as the lights go down around her.
An unabashed formalist, Lanthimos favours a shallow depth-of-field and cropped compositions, despite the widescreen format—the better to suggest the confines of this hermetically sealed little world. His tone is understated, endistanced—yet also wry: for all its intelligence, it’s also a very funny film, albeit in a distinctly absurdist register.
I was uncertain as to what function Rosa’s aged father serves (if, indeed, he is her father: their encounters and conversations seem as artificial as any of the ‘replacements’)—until a scene, late in the film, of the old man getting into bed beside a woman of his own age, who may or may not be his wife.
“You have a beautiful body,” he says appreciatively. She smiles. “So do you.” It’s not true, necessarily—they’re both overweight, sickly, senescent—but it is indicative of the essentially phatic nature of social discourse, and the lies we feel compelled to tell ourselves, and each other, in order to keep living.
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