Alps (Alpeis) Review
Four people – a nurse (Aggeliki Papulia), a paramedic (Aris Servetalis), a gymnast (Ariane Lebed) and her coach (Johnny Vekris) - set up a business where they act as surrogates for deceased people, to help their relatives and friends through the grieving process. They call their organisation “Alps” because it does not reveal the purpose of the organisation (okay) and no mountain can take the place of the Alps, but the Alps can substitute for any other mountain (not sure about that one). The group take as codenames individual peaks – their leader, the paramedic, naturally becoming Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the range.
Giorgos Lanthimos came to prominence in 2009 with his third feature, Dogtooth (Kynodontas), which won the Un Certain Regard at Cannes and was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film, losing the latter to Denmark's In a Better World. However, what seemed striking and original about the earlier film begins to seem repetitive in his follow-up, Alps. It shows the difference between refining one's methods and themes and beginning to look like a one-trick pony. It's too early to write Lanthimos off, but overall Alps is a disappointment.
You can check off the correspondences between the two films, beginning with the subject matter: a somewhat artificial human experiment, with the film observing human behaviour under those conditions. Add to that Lanthimos's style: the frequently detached and formal compositions across the Scope frame, the oblique narrative which the viewer has to piece together, almost none of the characters being given names, and the lack of non-diegetic music: both the opening and closing credits play out in silence. Clearly Lanthimos is aiming to not overtly manipulate the audience, but we are kept at arm's length and the results are often opaque. Both films have threatening undercurrents from the start, against those who threaten to disrupt the “experiment”, which pay off later on in a jolting scene of violence. Although it does contain some nudity, all that Alps is missing is the graphic and taboo-breaking (and in a couple of shots, clearly unsimulated) sexual content that is in Dogtooth.
As with the earlier film, this is a film driven by an idea, but it's one that should be more emotionally resonant than it turns out to be. In his handling of individual scenes, and his use of the camera and sound, Lanthimos shows himself a director of some talent. But you can't avoid a sense of diminishing returns.
Alps is a DVD-only release from Artificial Eye. The disc is single-layered and encoded for Region 2 only.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Alps was shot in Super 35 and has a muted, naturalistic look, with few strong colours. There's nothing to complain about in the transfer, presumably from a HD master, but that's exactly what you should expect from a new film.
The soundtrack, mostly in Greek with some English, is available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). There's very little difference between the two, as there is no music score, and surround effects are restricted to ambience and don't get much play apart from a couple of scenes, such as one on a beach. The subwoofer contributes to the bass in some of the music played in the film, but that's more or less it. The English subtitles are optional, and also subtitle the scenes where characters are speaking in heavy-accented and deliberately stilted English.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer, which is anamorphic in a ratio of 2.40:1 and runs 1:08.