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  Alps Pretend We're Dead
Year: 2011
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Stavros Psyllakis, Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed, Aggeliki Papoulia, Erifili Stefanidou
Genre: Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There is a secret society of four people who carry out good deeds in Greece, and they call themselves Alps, after the mountain range and because it gives nothing away as to what they are actually up to. The group is made up of a gymnast (Ariane Labed) and her coach (Johnny Vekris) - who has threatened to break her arms and legs if she ever brings up her desire to perform to a pop rather than a classical track ever again - a nurse (Aggeliki Papoula) and an ambulance driver (Aris Servetalis) who is their leader. Recently those latter two have encountered another potential client after a young tennis player is injured in an accident...

That's because the girl who was injured is likely to die, which means Alps can step in and offer their services to assist her parents and boyfriend with their grief. But was writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos' film, his follow-up to the much-acclaimed Dogtooth, really about the grieving process or was it about the consequences of ordering people about to the point of bullying them? Certainly he had a preoccupation with the patriarchal aspects of society as his previous work had shown, and the leader of the small gang, who names himself with no irony but some degree of self-aggrandisement Mont Blanc, appears to rule over the two female members with an iron will.

As does the coach over the gymnast, and as the story progresses we see how one of the women is able to adapt to these conditions, as the other bends to the demands to breaking point, all because the identities which have been imposed on her are making her lose her sense of self, and without that on this evidence you can go haywire. This makes the film sound like some throbbing psychological thriller, but it isn't, as Lanthimos adopted a very slow and deliberate pace all the better for the audience to mull over the bizarre behaviour playing out before them. That the director kept his cards close to his chest only contributed to the enigmatic nature of the drama, though that brought problems.

Dogtooth had been a success with its fans because it seemed so original, a genuinely new way of looking at the themes of family and control Lanthimos was bringing up, yet if you took the group here as another form of family then you might twig that he wasn't doing much different, merely moving the furniture around. As far as that goes, Alps remained an intriguing experience, but as it demonstrated the European art film vogue for staying as reserved as possible to have the more dramatic moments stand out in sharper relief, merely watching the four characters, though in the main Papoula's cracking up nurse, go about their business came across as less perilous than those in Dogtooth did.

After all, all the nurse has to do is tell Mont Blanc that she's had enough and leave it all behind, indeed we can see this is the best course of action and cannot understand why she is still putting herself through this acting out of other, dead people's personas when it's affecting her mental health so badly. Is the power of the men so overwhelming that she cannot consider letting them down even if she's letting herself down? Implications such as that could make the film more disturbing the further you thought about it, yet you could just as easily watch it as an absurdist piece and even find a streak of dark humour in it, though whether that was intentional or otherwise was up for debate. As the nurse has to fill in for deceased individuals to help their nearest and dearest cope with the idea that they won't be around anymore, funnily enough Alps wasn't so much about death as it was about the living, and finding a role for yourself: if you have to fulfil someone else's ideas of a person they need in their lives, good or bad, then not only are you not true to yourself, but you could be damaging.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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