Alps is the eagerly awaiting follow up to Yorgos Lanthimos’s critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated, Dogtooth and certainly one of the hottest tickets at this year’s London Film Festival.
Much like Dogtooth, Alps’ surreal story is more effective the less you know about it. The film focuses on four peculiarly mismatched colleges. There’s a young, nubile gymnast, her demanding coach, an entrepreneurial paramedic and a caring, emotionally detached nurse. Together they’re collectively known as ‘The Alps’. They work as ‘substitutes’ but not in the conventional sense of the term, with the services they offer in keeping with Lanthimos’s obsessions with the mechanics of Hollywood and an inherent desire to escape the hardships of modern life. Needless to say what occurs is an absurd mix of jet black comedy and uncomfortably bizarre set pieces which, culminate in a series of surreal events.
Lanthimos is one of Europe’s most daring and innovative directors. His film’s are instantly recognisable through his actor’s awkward screen appearance and stunted dialogue, a trademark instantly recognisable throughout Alps’ quirky direction. Once again blurring real life with fantasy, Alps successfully captures the ridiculousness of human nature. The setting created by Lanthimos for Alps is almost timeless, ultimately absurd and in no way concerned with realism, indeed to enjoy Alps you’re required to accept and immerse yourself in his thoroughly bizarre creation.
As to be expected Alps’ style is incredibly similar to Dogtooth, only amplifying the mild disappointment that comes with watching this highly anticipated follow-up. Whilst Dogtooth was set in an uncomfortably insular world and offered a unique take on the domestic drama’s normally associated with European cinema, Alps transfers its action into a more recognisable world, feeling strangely cold and ultimately lacking in its own unique identity. However, whilst not as instantly shocking as Dogtooth, Alps has a more subtle and grounded plot which manages to slowly lure you into its peculiar premise without ever relying too much on narrative twists to stoke the dramatic fires. It instantly feels underwhelming but on reflection just as dark and haunting as its predecessor.
Lanthimos’s provocative and unconventional methods are still here to be savoured. His use of shallow focus allows us to engage with important on screen occurrences, whilst outside the frame the world remains swarmed in absurdity. The most noticeable element of Lanthimos’s recent film is his incredibly unconventional decision to rely on middle distant shots, especially during conversations. This inventive and abstract approach to filming dialogue creates an odd childlike sense of wonder, masking the viewer from the characters facial expressions whilst the camera pans upwards to their shoulders. It enhances the sense of marvel towards the ludicrous actions which take place and leaves the viewer feeling confused but extremely intrigued
Dogtooth was always going to be a difficult film to follow, yet whilst in no way surpassing its predecessor, Alps still stands above a wealth of modern European cinema, a complex and thoroughly fascinating examination of human nature and escapism from the daunting rigmaroles of modern life. A remarkably enjoyable film which demands a second viewing – and most importantly, proves that director Lanthimos isn’t just a one hit wonder.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthimis Filippou
Cast: Aggeliki Papoulia/Aris Servetalis/Johnny Vekris/ Ariane Labed
Runtime: 93 mins