ALPS (2011)

Running Time:  103 mins.                      Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: NR

Director: Giorgos Lanthimos

Genre: Drama

Country: Greece

Language: Greek w/English subtitles, English

Distributor: Kino Lorber

Cast: Stavros Psyllakis, Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed, Aggeliki Papoulia, Erifili Stefanidou, Efthijmis Filippou, Maria Kirozi


Yorgos Lanthimos is in his element with ALPS.  His previous work, DOGTOOTH (KYNODONTAS), takes root with a crazy father creating an insane world for his teen family, prohibiting their leaving the estate and teaching them only what he believes is important.  For the teens, escape from fantasy into reality is a goal.  By contrast, for some residents of ALPS, escape into fantasy and away from reality is the goal.

ALPS, or ALPIES in the Greek, has nowhere near the entertainment value of DOGTOOTH; but given Lanthimos’ vivid imagination and his connection to ancient Greek tragedies in which performers wear masks to symbolize their staged identities, this barely accessible film can be appreciated by buffs if not necessarily loved.

As co-written by Efthimis Filippou, in Greek with English subtitles (and some spoken English), ALPS takes us to the bleak atmosphere of a hospital in an unnamed Greek city.  A likewise unnamed cast of characters including a nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia), a paramedic (Aris Servetalis), a coach (Johnny Vekris) and a gymnast (Ariane Labed) are members of a secretive club called Alps—so named to disguise its mission and because the Alps mountains can stand in for others like Mount McKinley.  Club members under the direction of the paramedic hire themselves out to bereaved families, taking on the identities of the recently departed folks, acting out the dead persons’ narratives to comfort the survivors but, even more aptly, to allow the survivors to let loose their resentments against the poor souls who have left them.

In one of the tale’s more dramatic scenes, the rail-thin gymnast goes through her steps in extended scenes—Lanthimos is nothing if not patient—begging the coach to allow her use a pop music background instead of the classical beat for which the coach believes she is unready. (This serves as practice for the gymnast’s job of playing the dead character for the latter’s parents.)  In the story’s most important segment, the nurse assumes the role of a 16-year-old tennis player (Maria Kirozi), who dies after a car accident but who has apparently been the victim of her parents’ temper as well as we can see by the way the surrogate is treated.

Signifying the permeability of identity in much the way the ancients did under the writing of such greats as Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, ALPS has elements of Luigi Pirandello, a forerunner of Theater of the Absurd, who in his play “Henry IV” has a historian taking part in a pageant commemorating the monarch’s life and who, after injuring himself by a fall from his horse, imagines himself to be that king.  Lanthimos takes his permeability of identity so far that the gymnast nearly loses her life by hanging herself—as presumably did the person who life she is re-enacting.

Ariane Labed is a marvel to watch as the gymnast, whose double-jointed stretches, for example placing her leg back and over her shoulder to meet at her chest, are most impressive.  As the nurse, Aggeliki Papoulia anchors the film as the one independent member of the Alps group, who ignores the rules “no intimacy with clients” and “no deviation from the script” to suffer a blow to the face that requires stitches and a forcible evacuation from the home of her client.  She goes so far into her new identity that she substitutes for her own dead mother, making a sexual advance on her dad (Stavros Psillakis) with untoward consequences.  ALPS could benefit from a second look by audience members who may watch it more closely as for the more opaque symbols strewn about.


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