Kino Lorber // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // December 27th, 2012
When the end is here, the Alps are near.
When I watched Dogtooth, the Academy Award nominated feature from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, I was excited at the idea of a new face on the world stage. Thus, I was really happy to get Alps, his follow up to that fine piece of bizarre cinema. After watching it, there's no doubt that Lanthimos has plenty of talent and an eye for interesting visuals but, sadly, Alps did absolutely nothing for me.
A pair of hospital workers (Aris Servetallis, A Dog's Dream, and Aggeliki Papoulia, Dogtooth), a gymnast (Ariane Labed, Attenberg), and her coach (Johnny Vekris) have together started a very strange side business. When people at the hospital die, one of the four of these people provides a service to the bereaved in which they'll impersonate the deceased, learning their habits and idiosyncrasies to help them get over their grief. Soon, one of the people gets too close to the family she is helping, turning the whole operation into a mess of confusion and pain.
If there's anything from Dogtooth that Yorgos Lanthimos has carried over to Alps, it's his clear acumen at assembling a film and ability to draw out quality performance. Everything else that made the film so good, thoughâ€"the strangeness, the interesting visuals, the surrealismâ€"is all left behind for a dull, drab attempt at some kind of mannered drama. As far as it goes, he succeeds in what he tried to make, but the film left me cold, bored, and bothered, but in no positive way.
The very premise of the film is preposterous from the start. That four people, whose connection to each other is tenuous, would take it upon themselves to start a business that offers this service makes no sense on any level. The idea that grieving people, with things like funeral expenses and getting on with their lives to deal with, would decide to pay money so that some 30-year-old woman could impersonate their teenaged daughter is plain absurd. On top of it, the name of the group says it all. Referring to themselves as mountains shows the kind of hubris that would allow them to think that they could perform said service. It makes them cruel and terribly unlikable, anything but a group of people you want to succeed.
In this way, Alps strongly reminds me of one of my least favorite films of all time: Lars von Trier's The Idiots. In this case, they're not exploiting and mocking the mentally challenged, so it isn't nearly as horrible as that, but these for confused individuals are exploiting and mocking their clients by simple virtue of what they're doing. When it all starts to fall apart, my only reaction is schadenfreude that finally their idiotic and cruel game came to an end. They aren't therapists on any level and there never seems a point at which the "therapy" ends, except for the moment where they stop paying for it and, at that point, any connection they've built with their bereaved clients is thrown out the window. It is hard for me to think of I concept I would find more irritating.
On the positive side, the performances are fairly good from the four leads. They're all pretty lifeless, but I'm positive that's the director's intention, their individual talents be damned. For those situations that we get to see, which is very few and almost exclusively involves the two women, they have to play very different roles depending on their client and it's easy to see how they worm their way into their clients' hearts. The conversations the group has amongst themselves are the only real points of interest in the film at all, and they aren't nearly enough to carry the film. I'm disappointed; Dogtooth was so strong, it's too bad to see his storytelling devolve this much. Here's hoping Alps is the anomaly and not his previous film.
Alps receives a typically decent release from Kino International. It's a bare bones disc, but technically sound. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks crisp and clear, with no detectable defects on any level. It's not the most colorful film, but flesh tones are realistic, black levels are deep, and whites are clean and bright. Similarly, the sound is strong, at least for a stereo mix. There is no music and many long stretches of silence, but the dialog is clear and, in those quiet parts, there is no background noise at any point. It isn't a dynamic mix, but it doesn't have to be. The only extras on the disc are a pair of trailers.
I can't call Alps a bad film, but it left me very cold. Lanthimos, no doubt, has the talent and the vision to do some very good work, as he's previously shown. This one, though, just doesn't have any heart and the story is ridiculous, especially in how much it tries to be realistic. Some will appreciate it, I'm sure; it's well acted and confidently put together, but I couldn't bring myself to care about it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Greek)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated