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3.0 out of 5 stars The quirkiness of language games, July 6, 2013
This review is from: Alps (DVD)
Three years ago, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos burned up the festival circuit with Dogtooth, a brilliant isolationist allegory about adult-age children who are kept on the family compound by parents who control (and wildly distort) information from the outside world.Alps is Lanthimos's disappointing follow up. Where the earlier film concerned young characters finally trying to break out of their proscribed roles, the new one is about a woman who desperately hangs on to false identities, because her real life gives her no satisfaction.In Dogtooth the eldest daughter finds a way of escaping.Here the same actress attempts to break into a home. Aggeliki Papoulia, who played the eldest sibling in Dogtooth, stars as a hospital nurse who moonlights as the member of the eponymous organization, which provides an unusual service: the recently bereaved can hire Papoulia or one of her three colleagues for a few hours a day to stand in as their deceased loved one, as a way of easing the transition.

None of the group are known by any names.The group consist of 4 people,the nurse,a gymnast,a coach and a paramedic who call themselves `Alps' because it doesn't describe what they do,and like the Alps it can replace other mountains,but cannot itself be replaced.They are semioticians who stand for something else.Dogtooth was about semiotic corruption,rather than overbearing parenting and the film worked on its own terms.Vagueness enters into the motivation or organisation of the group.How do they manage to function while holding other jobs down?The acting and execution of the scenes is excellent,but the characters have no personality,so its tough to remember who is playing who for which family and so on.There is skill in orchestrating these tense,creepy, shockingly funny set-pieces as there was in Dogtooth.Though Dogtooth features an entirely made-up world, full of false word definitions and nonexistent threats, it's carried across by a rigorous internal logic that's conspicuously absent from Alps. There's no sense of how this service ever works, and only a scant indication of the miseries from which Papoulia is trying to escape by assuming a new identity.

As with Dogtooth, Alps picks up right when the system is finally starting to break down. Though this shadowy organization has a strict protocol--and enforces it physically, if necessary--Papoulia catches wind of a teenage tennis player who dies on her way to the hospital, and she offers her services independently of the group. It says something about the sad contours of her own life that she would invest herself so deeply in the robotic charade of imitating someone else's. Papoulia's life, the nature of the business, the impact it has on the bereaved-Lanthimos presents it all as a great human mystery, a series of strangely comic (or just plain strange) encounters that aren't engineered for a clean resolution. The nurse in some ways is the central character: she plays a dutiful daughter, a devoted partner/ colleague/friend.However she gets over-involved,steps outside the strict rules,she wants to get into a relationship.She is cast out of the group.She has a breakdown and rehearsed dialogue,set-piece conversation pours out of her like ticker-tape,but now without focus and without reason.Is her father really her father?Why does she attempt to seduce him?

It is a carbon-copy of Dogtooth, but where the wooden performances, flat framing, and general awkwardness complimented the story, it doesn't do that here at all. The concept is these actors are supposed to fill the role of other people, which is hardly convincing when everyone is so robotic.I suppose you could say that the stiffness is in how unfulfilling their real lives are, or something, but I feel it's stretch.Is Alps about our inability to deal with the finality of death? Is it about the way humans assume roles to escape themselves? Is it satirising the lack of authenticity in the modern world? It lacks focus. Of course a film doesn't have to be about one thing, but I think Lanthimos is touching on a few things in an extremely scattershot way,because if any of it was revealed with any more clarity the movie just wouldn't work because it's so absurd and pointless.Too quirky by half with no follow-through.This film blurs the distinction between reality and fabrication.It tries to show how meanings are made,reality represented.It just doesn't work.
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