out of Five
Running time: 93
Director Giorgos Lanthimos' follow-up to Dogtooth is a powerful, wilfully oblique and occasionally shocking Greek drama with an intriguing premise and a superb performance from Aggeliki Papoulia.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Giorgos Lanthimos, Alps stars Aggeliki Papoulia as a nurse who meets up with a paramedic (Aris Servetalis), a gymnast (Ariane Labed) and a coach (Johnny Vekris) in a gymnastics practice room. Together, they decide on a name for their upcoming business venture, eventually choosing the name Alps, partly because the name bears no relation to what they actually do.
It soon transpires that what the group actually does is offer to impersonate the recently deceased in order to help grieving clients. As a result, the nurse becomes closely involved with the family of a dying 16 year old tennis player, while also continuing with a series of other jobs, such as the friend of an elderly widow or a diabetic swimmer who has regular sex sessions with her lover in which she recites from the same English script (‘Please don't stop, it feels like paradise’) every time.
Alps is shot, written and performed in the same style as Lanthimos' previous feature, Dogtooth, to the point where the films could be said to inhabit the same slightly surreal world. At any rate, the characters have the same oddly emotionless delivery style (despite the fact that they are meant to be acting out parts) and the same curious fascinations with aspects of Hollywood (the question ‘Who's your favourite actor?’ is continually repeated) and although the young women have more freedom in Alps than they did in Dogtooth, they are still subject to the same brutal punishment by men if they break the rules.
The film is wilfully oblique throughout, never fully explaining what's really going on and leaving the audience to place their own interpretation on what's occurring onscreen (for example, the nurse goes home to a man who may be her father, but who may also be just another client). To this end, the script explores a series of interesting ideas about identity, control, grief and the roles people play in their everyday lives.
Aggeliki Papoulia (who was also in Dogtooth) is terrific as the nurse and there are several darkly funny moments scattered throughout the film, not least during her English-speaking sex scenes, with her partner correcting her when she goes off-script. Similarly, as with Dogtooth, Lanthimos maintains a suspenseful atmosphere throughout, culminating in sudden acts of shocking violence that are powerful and disturbing.
By turns disturbing, shocking and darkly funny, Alps is a powerful, intriguing and impressively directed Greek drama with a strong script and a terrific central performance from Aggeliki Papoulia. Highly recommended.