Olivia Domba recommends Yorgos Lanthimos’ most recent feature, now streaming on Netflix.
I have yet to figure out whether I love Yorgos Lathimos’ Alps or if I simply love the idea of it all. In his follow up to the bizarre and beautiful Dogtooth, Lathimos has moved from the confines of a seriously disturbed Greek family to an agency that claims to help individuals cope with the loss of loved ones. The agency is comprised of four people – a gymnast, her coach, a nurse, and a paramedic, who act as surrogates, doubling for the deceased. The film’s title comes from the name of the agency, so named because of its positive associations with the geographic Alps, but also because of its lack of association with the service being provided.
The self-deception practiced by the clients and staff of Alps is the focus of the film, and the ultimate hunger for reality caused by this deception drives the film to its climax. Lathimos has placed Aggeliki Papoulia’s nurse at the center of the film, straddling the reality and burden of caring for her aging father with the demands of her job at the agency. As reality and myth become increasingly muddled in her mind, she begins to lash out at any and everyone in order to satisfy her emotional and sexual needs. Papoulia, returning after working with Lathimos in Dogtooth, carries the majority of the film and is the only member of the agency followed beyond its gym headquarters. She gives the most nuanced performance of the cast, most likely because of the centrality of her character to the story.
Alps has a much more layered story to tell than Dogtooth, but it is obvious that the two films are very much the product of the same hand. While Alps may be seen as a kind of sequel or extension to Dogtooth, it definitely demonstrates Lathimos’ growth as a filmmaker and storyteller. The supporting cast is solid, but mechanical. The masochistic relationship between the gymnast and her coach is both frightening and enrapturing – two words that seem to capture the whole of Lathimos’ work as a filmmaker.
While the Alps agency attempts to stick a patch on the emotional strain caused by death, it does nothing to mend the tear. Performance of the least enthusiastic and mundane kind is offered as a solution to loss and grief, and Alps may have something to say about the potential of film as a medium for emotional escapism. Can cinema ever convincingly present a true and meaningful escape?