Director: Giorgos Lanthimos.
Starring. Aggeliki Papoulia, Aris Servetalis, Johnny Verkis, Ariane Labed, Maria Kirozi. Greece. 1h 33m.
After the amazing Dogtooth (2009) project, Lanthimos was a closely watched director, but his next project seemed like an amazing idea on paper but even with his surreal approach to film, personally I felt as if he missed his own target by being too realistic and not fantastical enough, or maybe the hype train mutated my anticipations to a level that not even a great director could reach.
ALPS is part is about a group of therapists who set up a business to allow families to get through the grieving process by supplying them with “trained” actors to play the roles of their loved ones, so they can have those precious last moments with them, say goodbye or to just have the feeling that they are still around for a few days. The drawbacks are that the actors don’t look like the people they are impersonating and they have to improvise on details the families give to them, hand written scripts and a few left over clothes but they make do, as method actors are especially adapted to do.
While watching this sombre drama I was acutely aware of how the story sounded much like my interpretation of Holy Motors (2012), a character who changes and splices himself in others’ lives if only for a few minutes, but makes an uncanny effort to dress the part and fits in. In total contrast Lanthimos takes a bizarre stance and the opposite is achieved.
With limited dialogue the characters shuffle between their daily lives and into character, with a solemn seriousness, yet hire clients hire them and seem to get “something” out of the experience. The clients remain pretty anonymous, strangely the film isn’t about them, and to be fair it’s not really about the therapists, they discuss setting up the business, work on trying to be the deceased, but they don’t even have names, they are known by their role. For a while we follow Gymnast (Labed) while she trains in an empty gym for hours with a difficult routine with a ribbon fluttering beautifully at the end of a baton, as if training for a real event.
Eventually the death of a young tennis player stirs up something within the group, the therapist Rosa (Papoulia) calls first dibs on the role and even goes as far as deceiving the rest of the team into believing the player has recovered so she can approach the parents to hire her privately, how she behaves really cements the notion that this film is about the hidden connections we have with people. This “job” requires a degree of mental stability and can really hack away at any resolve the therapists thought they had, much like the tough situation the sexual therapist found herself in with the grisly drama She’s Lost Control (2014), circumstances can get personal and shift quite fast.
Greek director Lanthimos, has this surreal world of muted colours and bizarre situations, you can guess from the static dialogue and atmosphere that it’s the same director but while Dogtooth fired up the imagination with it’s sleazy situations and at times horrific outlandish antics, none of that is present in ALPS, which isn’t a bad thing, he seems somewhat respectful of the dead but after all the double crossing, anger, fear and a host of other emotions well up inside the therapists and the cracks begin to appear, there’s no final emotional pay off, things just happen and the film ends, like any provocative whisper of a movie should do.
L – Bereavement movies
5s – Giorgos Lanthimos.