Movie Review – Alps

Alps (2011)
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

The Alps are a secret society of four weirdos who provide a strange service for people. If someone has lost a loved one a member of the Alps will learn everything they can about the deceased and recreate them for a fee, acting out moments from their life. One member, The Nurse has been spending time playing the role of a lighting shop owner’s wife and has crossed a line of intimacy while still playing her part. At her day job, she meets a young girl who was injured in a car accident. Eventually, the young girl dies and The Nurse volunteers to play her for her parents, while not informing the rest of the Alps of what she is doing. The Nurse becomes absorbed in this life, experiencing a kind of family she did not have and even becoming intimate with the dead girl’s boyfriend.

The Alps are an interesting group whose origins are untold which only adds to their mystique. How did a nurse, an ambulance driver, a rhythmic gymnast, and her coach become this group of improvisational therapy re-enactors? We learn small bits about how these people interact and quickly determine that they exist in a bubble of potential violence with each other. For one member she tries to hang herself to get out and later one member brutally attacks another. It makes sense that anyone willing to form this collective is going to be mentally unstable, losing themselves in profoundly emotional work so that the line between the self and the role becomes blurred into nothing.

What Alps seems to be commenting on is the burden of grief. We’ve all met people who take the pain of others upon themselves to an unhealthy degree. This can be informally or through their jobs (see many social workers overwhelmed with cases), but in the end, the human mind and heart can only take so much. The Nurse finds the one touchpoint she has in her life, her father, growing distant due to his new relationship. Immersing herself in the life of the dead girl allows her to re-live periods that might not have gone so smoothly in her own life.

The comedy of the film comes from the awkwardly absurd. As the parents of the dead girl cry and moan in the hospital, the Nurse sits with them and begins to give such a terrible speech, talking about this can be the start of a great new beginning, even better than what has come before. At this moment she offers her services as a reenactor, the first four visits are free. What a deal! The cinematography is kept intentionally blurry so that as The Nurse moves through the dead girl’s house, everything is at a distance, the outlines are there, but the details are obscured.

Despite all the good, Alps feels like a tonal retread of Dogtooth, Lanthimos’ previous film. He remains so distant that we have difficulty connecting with any member of the group, even in shocking moments where we most certainly should. This was seven years passed between Alps and The Favourite, so Lanthimos has developed a lot in how to keep true to his cinematic style yet flesh his worlds out more thoroughly. If you are an essentialist, then Alps would be required viewing, but it doesn’t necessarily add much to the conversation.

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