Film: Alps

Greek director Giorgios Lanthimos made the provocative Dogtooth, one of the more memorable films I’ve seen recently. His follow-up, Alps (2011), is a tactically similar what-the-hell-is-going-on mystery with an off-the-wall central concept. It doesn’t match the shock value or WTF factor of Dogtooth, but it’s still very interesting.

Aggeliki Papoulia stars as a young nurse who has a unique and strange side job: she’s a member of the “Alps.” The group’s mission is to provide grief counseling to clients by serving as surrogates for recently deceased loved ones. Their seemingly altruistic aims, however, say more about their own psychology than that of their clients, as they creepily reenact scenarios, pretending to be the dead. The nurse throws herself ever more intensely into the work, which puts her at odds with the group’s leader (Aris Servetalis).

Lanthimos sets up the central mystery swiftly, but there’s still plenty to decode as events unfold. I found the film slow but weirdly mesmerizing. If the idea of hiring stand-ins for the dead sounds creepy, Alps plays it up even further by having the surrogates recite their “lines” in unconvincing monotone — which the clients don’t seem to mind. They’re just buying memory triggers, after all. But their motivations seem pretty simplistic compared to those of the Alps, who prove to be some pretty disturbed individuals, far more than the people they’re “helping.”

I suspect many will bounce off this slow, stylized, and oddly unnerving European art film; it’s hardly a laugh riot. But for people who are into this kind of thing, it’s an interesting and occasionally riveting psychological portrait.

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