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  • Benjamin May

Alps (2011) Review

In Greece, a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast and her coach form an underground group known as Alps. The goal of Alps is to help bereaved families through the mourning process by posing as the recently deceased. Run by the paramedic, the group visit elderly ladies, widowers and the like, keeping them company in the guise of the dead. After a young tennis player dies, the nurse takes up her role. Matters are complicated after she becomes obsessed; refusing to drop the act even after the grieving parents demand it. Meanwhile, the gymnast wants to dance to pop music, which her disciplinarian coach insists she isn't ready for. Will Alps prosper, or will the obsessiveness of the nurse lead to the groups' downfall?

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, 'Alps' is a movie both intriguing and frustrating. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou have come up with a genius conceit, which they then fail to explore as interestingly or as deeply as they could have. The narrative has surprisingly little emotional weight, constantly flirting around the edges of greatness but never quite making it. Scenes where the Alps members pose as the deceased initially have promise, but because Lanthimos and Filippou don't allow their characters to display any emotions; they ultimately have limited impact.

How can you create a meaningful film about grief when you don't allow any of your characters to grieve, or emote in any way? Additionally, there are numerous protracted silences in the film which- because of the aforementioned emotional frigidity of the characters- seem unnecessarily drawn out rather than intelligently introspective. Also, the sub-plot involving the gymnast and her coach, while entertaining, seems out of place in the grand scheme of things. It has no bearing on the main story; making one wonder whether or not it was included just to pad out the running time.

What was Lanthimos trying to say with 'Alps,' exactly? Some postulate the film may be an analogy about groupthink, while others claim it is some sort of capitalist cultural critique. The director himself has stated that "Alps is about a person who tries to enter a fabricated world," which doesn't really go a long way to explaining his intended meaning behind it. Ultimately, whatever message was at the core of 'Alps' is one so obscured by the confounding coldness of Lanthimos's approach that it's likely lost forever (on this viewer, anyway).

Having said that, there is a lot to praise about 'Alps.' Christos Voudouris's muted cinematography is attractive, lending to the proceedings a stark atmosphere that matches the narrative's dispassionate tone. His composition is frequently inspired, and some of his shots linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled. The story features much bizarre, dark humor that works well, and the cast are all great. Angeliki Papoulia and Johnny Vekris particularly impress as the nurse and the coach, respectively, turning in memorable performances despite Lanthimos and Filippou's scant characterization.

Yorgos Lanthimos's 'Alps' is a cold, calculated conundrum. As a complete package, it doesn't really work- though it contains scenes of power and moments of interest. Strikingly shot by Christos Voudouris, and routinely well-acted; it is not the creative and technical travesty some claim it to be. This is not to say it is a masterpiece either, for it is very far from that. Though Lanthimos has made much better films- 'Dogtooth' or 'The Lobster' come to mind- 'Alps' is certainly worth seeing; if only so you know you haven't missed the director's magnum opus.


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