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Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2011)

November 4, 2012

After shaking, or shocking, the audience with Kynodontas (Dogtooth, 2009), Giorgos Lanthimos continues his path with Alpeis, which shares many elements with the former. Lanthimos is mostly interested in observing  his characters interacting in social environments which go by their own rules. In Kynodontas, similarly to Arturo Ripstein’s El Castillo de la Pureza, the parents, in an attempt to preserve their children’s purity, keep them confined in their house. The three teenagers have never been in contact with the outer world, and live in the twisted reality made up by their parents, with their own vocabulary and their own beliefs. But we know what reality is, we understand the rules set by the parents, we can still distinguish fantasy from reality. But in Alpeis, it really is hard to tell what is real and what not. A group of four people reenact the lives of recently dead persons, interacting with their relatives, to make their mourn more acceptable. Them, too, have to obey the rules. But are these rules coming from themselves or are they dictated by others? Are all of the scenes we see just an act, or there are still some true feelings? Just like in Kynodontas, words are emptied from their meaning. The characters talk for the entire movie, but it’s possible that every word they said didn’t really mean anything. We found ourselves lost because, as the scenes go by, we can’t even tell what’s the real nature beneath the relationship between the four main characters. Maybe it’s not even our problem, maybe even them can’t tell where the line between reality and act is drawn.

Lanthimos digs in the depth of human interactions by twisting the meaning of what is being said on screen. His works recall the theatre of the absurd, mostly the works of Harold Pinter and, in certain aspects those of Samuel Beckett, because they put human nature on a dissecting table and use communication itself as a scalpel, bringing out what is buried deep down. Neither Kynodontas nor Alpeis are black comedies, as they are often been labeled. There are elements of black humor, but they are inscribed in an absurd environment that makes them normal. We too have to follow the established rules to understand what is going on. And when you don’t follow the rules, terrible things happen. In Alpeis, violence is more psychological than physical, apart from a key scene, which anyway is nothing near the crudeness of the previous movie. By switching from the closed environment of Kynodontas, far easier to control, to the wide and incomprehensible one of Alpeis, Lanthimos’s style gets colder and more detached. Characters are often blurred, cut from the shot, isolated in vast rooms, left alone in all their fragility. The hand-held camera makes us feel like intruders, peeping on these people lives, often behind corners or half-closed doors. The cinematography is curated by Christos Voudouris, who previously worked with the greek master Alexis Damianos on his last masterpiece Iniohos. Voudoris relies on a pale palette and cold tones, thus increasing the feeling of inadequacy and sadness that permeates the interns. Aggeliki Papoulia and Arias Servetalis had already worked with Lanthimos (respectively on Kynodontas and Kinetta, the director’s first film), Ariane Labed starred on Attenberg, which Lanthimos produced among others, while Johnny Vekris is at his first performance here. Most of the film relies on Papoulia’s performance, and she already proved to be the perfect choice to portray the absurd normality of Lanthimos’ scripts. Her empty eyes that shows little to no emotion are the perfect mirror to her lost character, who hardly can distinguish what is real from what’s not. All the other characters, while getting less screen time, are fundamental as well and their interpretation is perfectly calibrated and leave the desire to know more about them, even though the little we already know could be all but true. Lanthimos quickly became one of the most discussed young filmmakers, but he already demonstrated that he knows what he wants and he knows how to deliver it. I haven’t seen his first film yet, but as you can read, I strongly view his last two movies as highly connected, both in style and purposes. While Kynodontas was maybe too indebted with El Castillo de la Pureza by Ripstein, Alpeis confirms the ability of Lanthimos, and leaves me anxious to know what he will come up next.

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