Yorgos Lanthimos is one of modern European cinema’s pioneering auteurs, his ambient peculiarity nestling itself perfectly with the desires of audiences. Nowadays, we crave originality through visual molestation that the director executes with such credence. His breakthrough release, Dogtooth (2009), paraded this seething undertone of dark, almost comical, evil. It cemented Lanthimos as a purveyor of the weird and a leading light in the avant-garde. This may well be why his follow-up, Alps (Alpeis, 2011), feels like an all-round display of disappointing stalls, oscillating around an awkward narrative.
Much like Dogtooth, Alps‘ fundamental intention is to construct discomfort through a constant series of bizarre, indecipherable incidents. Unlike Dogtooth however, Lanthimos procrastinates around a motionless storyline full of familiar ingredients but no embellishment in style. The title Alps refers to a collective of dysfunctional characters whom offer their abnormal services to grieving families getting over the loss of a loved one. The group relieve their client’s aching loss by impersonating the deceased relative for a matter of months.
A quietly unhinged Aggeliki Papoulia plays a jaded nurse who accompanies a paramedic, gymnast and coach through idiosyncratic occurrences that play like a Chris Morris sketch rather than a coherent plot. Amidst all the absurd filler, that is the main crux of Alps. People impersonating dead people. A concrete concept that may have easily passed as appropriately disconcerting as it could be engaging. Undeniably intoxicating in its presentation, some may overlook the movie’s shortcomings. But many will be unable to ignore Lanthimos’ dithering. The director resides in a nauseating realm of inappropriate hypnotism; aimlessly wafting in and out of consciousness like a bad dream.
Interestingly, inferences of Roy Andersson’s deceptively humorous Songs from the Second Floor (2000) emanate throughout Alps. Sincere performances from a well-rounded cast coupled with hardly any camera movement offer an influx of candour and quality. Yet, again, any coherency is lost by Lanthimos persistently alienating his audience from the players. Social nods to Greece’s current political devolution, while intended to be satirical, equate to nothing more than depressing and disparaging. Its aesthetic, while confident and ultimately attractive, is marred by the blasé content it covers.
The wonders of the weird are infinite. Directors such as Lanthimos and fellow niche Weird Wave acquaintance Anthia Rachel Tsangari are essential in demolishing boundaries. Cinema is in desperate need of revolutionaries such as these. But there is a finite line between radical thinking and disillusion. With Alps, Lanthimos has allowed his inner introvert to guide him absolutely nowhere. What should be controversial and uneasy is just a drowsy rehash of good ideas cut and pasted in the wrong order.