MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

TIFF ’11 Review: Alps

One of my strongest festival memories is of watching Giorgos Lanthimos’ third film, Dogtooth, at TIFF in 2009, and walking out of the theater with a mass of fellow dazed critics, filled with excitement at having just seen this bizarrely brilliant work by an artist who seemed to materialize out of nowhere with the rare potential to be a cinematic game-changer. We weren’t quite sure what the hell we’d just seen, but we knew it was something unique and crazy, a work by a filmmaker with a distinctly unique perspective and vision. It was the kind of film you hope to discover at a film festival, the tiny gem you discover and appreciate only after sifting through countless grains of sand. Two years later, I still can’t get it out of my head.

So you can perhaps appreciate the buzz among the critical set when Lanthimos’ new film, Alps, with a script co-written by his Dogtooth co-writer, Efthymis Filippou , was announced to play at Toronto this year. Early reviews out of Venice were promising, but there was also, going into the screening at TIFF, a palpable sense of excitement to see what Lanthimos had come up with this time around, and nervous anticipation as to whether he could match his previous artistic success. When something nails you the way Dogtooth did, you want so badly for that filmmaker’s next effort to live up to the last. I don’t think there was a film playing at TIFF this year, at least among the set I tend to hang out with at festivals, that was more anticipated than this one.

So it’s with a deep breath of relief that I’m able to tell you that, if anything, Alps surpasses Dogtooth in its sparseness of style and form, and the uniqueness of its filmmaker’s artistic ambition and vision. Lanthimos is so precise, so specific in his directorial style; he has the kind of understated appreciation for tone and design, editing and framing that is the mark of a filmmaker who aspires more to filmmaking as art rather than craft.

Both Dogtooth and Alps are dark and distinct films. There are moments that are comic, in a very black and deadpan sort of way, and moments of stark, sudden, and unapologetic violence without apology.

The press kit for Alps — one of the few that I intend to actually hang on to — is equally spare aesthetically: A dove-grey cover that says simply, “ALPS” and “when the end is here the Alps are near.” I don’t want to tell you very much more than that about the storyline, because when you see it, I believe you should do so knowing as little about it as possible. Suffice it to say that it’s about an anonymous group (the aforesaid “Alps”) headed up by a paramedic who takes the code name “Mont Blanc,” and that their mission is to take the place of the recently deceased in the lives of their loved ones, to temporarily fill the gap left behind by a loss, thus making the transition of acceptance easier for the bereft. It sounds rather sweet and sentimental, but it’s about as far from sentimental as you can get.

The “15 Rules of the Alps,” as laid out in the press kit, read almost as though they could also be the rules under with Lanthimos himself might require his cast and crew to accept in working on his projects; as such, some of them seem to reflect the aesthetic of his filmmaking style, while others are directly contradictory to what we see on screen. Rule #15, for instance: “Must never attack one another, and must believe in teamwork,” takes on a very different meaning when contrasted with Mont Blanc’s absolute and sometimes violent authority over the group. And Rule #10: “Alps members should always be smart, clean, punctual, and in complete control,” could be said to be reflective of Lanthimos as a filmmaker; very few filmmakers work within the degree of absolutely clean precision and control this filmmaker applies to his work, in every single frame.

The fulcrum around which the film revolves is the challenge to Mont Blanc’s authority presented by one of the group’s members, a nurse, played by Aggeliki Papoulia, the older daughter from Dogtooth. The nurse acts directly in opposition to the fierce discipline demanded by their leader, and the dramatic tension of what will happen when these opposing, equally controlled forces collide is the force that propels the film. There are other relationships that are relevant as well, and moments whose importance becomes apparent only in retrospect, particularly between the two other Alps members, a young gymnast and her coach, and between the nurse and her aging father. Ultimately, though, those moments all serve to augment Lanthimos again exploring the ideas around dominance and subservience, authority and rebellion, that were so evident in Dogtooth.

Watching a film by a director with this level of precision and artistry is, for a film critic or cinephile, the intellectual equivalent of supremely mind-blowing sex, or perhaps what attending a church service feels like to a fundamentalist. As with Dogtooth in 2009, we collectively made our way out of the cinema, dazed and stunned, back into the real world, which suddenly seemed far less interesting. Who is this man, who has a mind that works in such a way, to conceive and create films like these? I am utterly fascinated by him. Lanthimos is a true artist, who sees the world from a perspective that is completely unlike any other.

As to the question of whether he’d ever be able to follow up Dogtooth, the answer is a resounding “Yes, and then some.” You do not want to miss this film.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon