Right off the back I gotta say that it takes a special kind of talent to make subjects like diabetes, life support and beatings to the head with blunt objects a laughing matter. This was by FAR one of my favorites from last year (sorry it took so long for me to write about it). With back-to-back hits under his belt, Yorgos Lanthimos has managed to earn one of the TOP spots amongst the “leaders of the new school” (a collection of new-ish and/or emerging directors set to take over once current masters like Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Mike Leigh and a few others step down, fade away or retire). In just 2 years he’s blessed us with ‘Dogtooth’ (a film that was surprisingly nominated for best foreign film last year) and his most recent feature; ‘Alps’ (one of the few films i saw at TIFF last year that I LOVED, and a film I included in my TOP 10 films of 2011). I honestly wish at this point it had been released in theaters so you could all witness its greatness but oh well…consider this a sneak peak in to whats going to be one of the most original comedies of 2012 (apparently this wont be released until spring). Like ‘God Bless America’ (which also has a fucked up sense of humor) this is one of the few films I saw last year that I actually liked bragging about to people.
There’s a few reasons why I’m so drawn to silliness on television like ‘Tim & Eric’ (and other various shows on cartoon network/adult swim), ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’: To balance out all the serious, heavy and often depressing films I constantly watch. The second reason is that I just don’t find many recent comedies very funny outside of a few exceptions like; ‘Wet Hot American Summer’, ‘Super Troopers’ and ‘Harold & Kumar’. After that, other comedies i enjoy are essentially guilty pleasures that I know deep down inside are quite stupid (‘Beerfest’ and ’Grandma’s Boy’ are a few examples). I love watching movies but I also love to laugh. Recently I haven’t been able to rely on film for laughter. But somehow Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos was able to change all that, tap in to my brain and make a film that actually spoke to me in terms of humor. Can you believe I’m actually saying such a corny phrase? A film “spoke to me”? But It’s true. Films like ‘Alps’ and ‘Dogtooth’ are proof that I’m not crazy and my odd sense of humor is shared by a few other people in this world. Thank god filmmakers like Yorgos Lanthimos exist. He seems like the kinda guy who sits around making up really fucked up, yet funny “What if…” scenarios in his head all day.
‘Alps’ centers around 4 people (a nurse, an EMT, a future gymnast star and her coach) who run a “business”/borderline secret society that provides a unique service: They stand in or take the place of a loved one who’s either dead or in a coma. This provides grieving family members, friends and loved ones a little piece of mind and the opportunity to say what they didn’t have the chance to say in the past. Think of it as a form of therapy. Their clients include a widowed husband who’s wife died of complications from diabetes, a wife & husband who’s daughter (a teen tennis protege) is on life support and an elderly blind widow who hasn’t gotten over the loss of her husband. If that doesn’t sound absurd enough, the 4 employees of ALPS don’t ever really look anything like the deceased or comatose people they’re pretending to be which obviously adds an extra element of humor to the already crazy sounding plot. The employees of ALPS have strict rules, similar to “fight club”, that aren’t meant to be broken (and we do get to see the hilariously violent punishment one of employees faces when they break those rules in a scene almost identical to the scene in ‘Dogtooth’ when the women gets hit in the face with a VCR). Other standout scenes include an awkward game of charades (see the picture at the of top of this blog), a few moments of hilariously awkward dancing, a debate on whether or not Prince (the musician) is still alive and a funny scene involving one of the ALPS employees trying to play tennis with a girl on life support (see video below). Things eventually get out of hand towards the end of the film when one of the ALPS employees gets a little too caught up in one of her stand-in roles and starts to have trouble accepting the real world and she essentially goes rogue (…and a little insane).
The ALPS motto reads:
Don’t weep, don’t cry
Don’t be sad
Don’t be sad
Wave sadness goodbye
Say “hello” to joy
’Cause we are here, by your side
We are the Alps
Oh yeah, we are the Alps
No need for sadness
No need for pain
We’ll be there, there, there
No more unhappiness
Grieve no more
The Alps are here
We are your friends
We are your lovers
We are your father
We are your colleagues
We are the Alps
Oh yeah, we are the Alps
Their “Fight Club-esque” rules are:
1. Must declare in advance the things he or she is unwilling to do by filling out Form 1 (e.g. kissing, lifting weights, travelling, etc.).
2. Must also declare in advance the things he or she is good at by filling out Form 2 (e.g. dancing, waterskiing, discussing, etc.).
3. Must have some basic knowledge of psychology and sociology.
4. Is obliged to support, under all circumstances, the interests of the Alps group.
5. Must respect other Alps members.
6. Has the right to change their nickname only twice. They cannot choose a nickname belonging to another Alps member.
The nickname must strictly be the name of a mountain in the Alps, and not something general or irrelevant (e.g. Blonde, Master, Dragon, etc.).
7. Can never talk about Alps activities with non-Alps members.
8. Is obliged to take the Gymnastics Club Test, if necessary.
9. Must be over 14 years of age.
10. Should always be smart, clean, punctual, and in complete control.
11. Must never get emotionally involved with clients, or have intimate relations with them.
12. Cannot change his or her physical appearance without the Leader’s permission (e.g. dye their hair, lose or gain weight, wear coloured contact lenses, etc.).
13. Must be able to make convincing facial expressions (sadness, happiness, despair, etc.).
14. Must honour the title of their membership, and be ready to kill or die for it.
15. Must never attack another Alps member, and must believe in teamwork.
Outside of the intentionally dry delivery of the actors, ‘Alps’ and ‘Dogtooth’ are completely different stories yet they do share a loose connection. They both explore similar themes. On the subject of his last two films, both centering around the same lead actress (Aggeliki Papoulia) Yorgos Lanthimos said;
“Doogtooth is the story of a person who tries to escape a fictitious world. Alps is about a person who tries to enter a fabricated world” (cineuropa.org)
So although both films are technically comedies, they still explore the tragedy of people getting caught up in worlds that aren’t real. Even in his unique comedic world, Lanthimos isn’t afraid to take himself seriously from time to time. Sometimes its difficult to tell if Lanthimos’ films are dramas hidden inside of a comedy, or comedies hidden inside of a drama. His work walks that fine line.
As far as performances go, there’s something about the films star; Aggeliki Papoulia’s delivery and comedic timing that I cant really put in to words without overpraising her. Even though ‘Alps’ is a comedy, she plays the role with the same intensity (which is written all over her face) that you’d expect a method actor to have for a serious drama. If you happen to check the internet for images from ‘Alps’, you’d notice how serious and intense her face is through out most of the film. If only comedic performances were treated with the same respect as other performances she’d be given way more praise. In my opinion, based off of what I’ve seen her act in so far (which I admit isn’t much) she’s just as funny as current female comedic heavyweights like Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig or Amy Poehler (although no one is quite as funny as Amy Sedaris).
As you can see, its very difficult to not mention both ‘Dogtooth’ and ‘Alps’ in the same breath. Both films feature that odd, unique atmosphere of (early) Michael Haneke (if he actually had a sense of humor), Robert Bresson, Todd Solondz and a more toned down Tim & Eric collaborating on a script. I hate to sound so over the top, but its almost impossible to not enjoy ‘Alps’ if you like ‘Dogtooth’. Furthermore, if you are one of the few odd souls out there that actually DIDNT like ‘Dogtooth’, I have confidence that you’ll enjoy as well. ‘Alps’ is slightly more mature and Yorgos Lanthimos’ disturbing nature is toned down a bit in ‘Alps’.
This is not to be missed when it comes out.