Nothing compares to you – Alps review (Sydney Film Festival)

Alps - Starring Aggeliki Papoulia, Ariane Labed, and Aris Servetalis. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. By Simon Miraudo.

Alps plays the Sydney Film Festival on June 13, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

Following on from his Oscar-nominated freak-fest Dogtooth, it was expected Yorgos LanthimosAlps would similarly evade easy explanation. Lesser filmmakers have abused such a reputation to make movies that were all weird style and no sensible substance. If anything, Lanthimos has toned down his innate audience-alienating abilities, while still retaining his signature aesthetic. Alps feels very much like a companion piece to Dogtooth; albeit a subtler, less confronting, and also less powerful one. How could it possibly compare? But Alps does have one trump card; a profoundly sad beating heart.

It would be a fool’s errand to attempt to convey the premise in a written review the way Lanthimos unveils it over the course of the movie, so forgive the more conventional plot synopsis offered here. Aggeliki Papoulia and Aris Servetalis star as ‘Mont Rosa’ and ‘Mont Blanc’, the self-christened members of a mysterious group known as ‘Alps’. They, along with an eager-to-please gymnast (Ariane Labed) and her abusive coach (Johnny Vekris), offer grieving families a substitution service where they stand in for their long-lost loved ones and help them ease the pain. Their business is more popular than you would imagine. Though, when you really think about it, mourners always look for substitutes to their pain, so if this company did exist they probably would be fairly successful.

Mont Rosa has scored the plum job of replacing a recently deceased teenage tennis player. She wears the girl’s clothes, bites her nails upon instruction, and repeats scripted lines on command. The parents don’t go with the flow; they peer at her deeply, almost looking past her, as if they want Rosa to disappear and for the daughter to return in her place. At first it seems that the Alps are exploiting the anguished – other clients include a blind woman, a controlling lamp-store owner, and the friend of a deceased ship captain – but it soon becomes clear that it’s the subs really looking to fill a hole in their own existence. Mont Rosa in particular has a complicated, mostly unexplained relationship with her father and her late mother. She invests heavily in her alternate lives and begins sleeping with clients – a big no-no for group leader Mont Blanc – and can’t quite bring herself back to the reality from whence she came.

The movie becomes far more interesting when it moves away from the gimmicky – though certainly saddening – premise and hones in on the home life of Mont Rosa; a woman whose sanity is far more tenuous than we could have imagined. Papoulia is just as impressive and fearless here as she was in Dogtooth. The same goes for Attenberg star Labed as the anxious gymnast; she’s green to the substitution game, but is willing to use her malleable body to get what she wants. It’s no surprise when she eventually All About Eves Rosa. The girls are asked to degrade themselves, and their emotional state is so fragile they no longer see anything wrong with it. The men want their unquestioning subservience, retaliating with violence when it’s not given. Lanthimos’ obsession with American pop culture is evident here just as it was with Dogtooth; the characters discuss famous celebrities ad nauseam. The parallels between what the Alps do and what Hollywood does becomes clear. These four are simply actors sealed in their own hermetic world, with its own set of  murky, sexual politics.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Alps plays the Sydney Film Festival on June 13, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

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