"Lanthimos's dazzlingly dislocated follow-up to the improbably Oscar-nominated Dogtooth [is] a return that should keep him on the fast-track to Euro-auteur royalty," predicts Guy Lodge at In Contention. "Doubling down on its predecessor's polarizing absurdist humor and chilly formal grace, Alps applies those virtues to a more diffuse, ensemble-driven structure that is in no hurry to reveal its rich thematic adhesives of doubling and substitution. It'd be rash to call it a better film than Dogtooth, but it is, in the relative scheme of these things, a bigger one, and exciting evidence of restless formal development on the part of its director."
At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton advises going into Alps "as cold as possible." He reprints the brief synopsis provided in the press kit and strains to reveal nothing more. He does note, though, that Alps is "probably a more accessible film than its predecessor, accessible being a very relative term here. It plays up the jet-black comedy, while retaining the humanism — as strange a world as Lanthimos creates, he genuinely cares for his characters, even as they do incomprehensible things."
In Screen, Lee Marshall adds only a slight dash of detail to that synopsis of a story that "holds us emotionally and intellectually," but if, at this point, you'd like to know nothing at all about how Alps plays out, stop here.
Marshall: "As off-centre in its narrative progression as it is in its widescreen cinematography — full of odd framings, cut-off heads and focus pulls to seemingly irrelevant details — Alps deals us fragments of story from a pack that seems to have lost a few cards. There's a young rhythmic gymnast [Ariane Lebed] working on her act in a big empty gym with a cruel and corpulent trainer [Johnny Vekris]; a tense, unhappy hospital nurse [Aggeliki Papoulia] who for some reason that immediately seems suspect takes a special interest in the welfare of a teenage girl, a keen tennis player, who has just been rushed into intensive care following a car crash; and the nurse's colleague, an intense, serious paramedic [Aris Servetalis]. All four characters come together during a meeting in the same cavernous gym, when we discover that they are members of a recently-founded secret society which their leader, the paramedic, decides to call 'Alps' … Eventually, around a quarter of the way in, the revelation comes that explains at least some of what we've seen up to now: the four members of Alps stand in for people who have died, so their relatives can continue to be with them. They learn scripts provided by the family, dress in the clothes of the deceased, carry out little tasks or chores."
Cineuropa interviews Lanthimos.
"Is it just coincidence that the world's most messed-up country is making the world's most messed-up cinema?" Steve Rose introduces the "Greek Weird Wave" to Guardian readers.
Updates, 9/4: "'Gender trouble' is a euphemism for what's going on in Lanthimos's surreal world," suggests Barbara Wurm, blogging for Sight & Sound. "Even these physically perfect women (Aggeliki Papoulia as the nurse, Ariane Labed as the gymnast) with their stubborn wills and crazy determination — the nurse tries to get emotionally closer to her father by putting her hand between his legs — are ignored, told off, drilled, beaten or simply abused by their fathers and ersatz fathers, but also by the coach and the paramedic, the other two members of their secret society, 'the Alps.'"
"The cumulative force of the screenplay and Yorgos Mavropsaridis's editing is not as hypnotic as in Dogtooth," finds Boyd van Hoeij in Variety, "perhaps in part because those familiar with Lanthimos's m.o. will know what to expect; the film's construction and use of absurdist humor are not only more apparent, but also robbed of an element of surprise. The fact that Alps' mission involves more interaction with people from the outside world — the bereaved — results in a higher suspension-of-disbelief hurdle to clear than in the previous films, which were set in more secluded locales. (There is not one scene in which a mourner scoffs at the idea of someone replacing a loved one.)"
For Deborah Young, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Alps "has an inexplicable power to draw the viewer into its hermetic web of inhuman relationships."
With Dogtooth, "Lanthimos earned a reputation as the laughing mortician of contemporary Greek culture. This splendidly icy, opaque picture goes further still, showing a world nudged off its axis and an emotional topography where the signposts are backwards and the satnav scrambled." 4 out of 5 stars from the Guardian's Xan Brooks.
Updates, 9/7: Alps "is distinguished not because it consciously sets out to be different," blogs Gabe Klinger for Sight & Sound, "but because its director has a freedom of tools and the complete trust of his collaborators… to be able to generously carve out a vision of a world for audiences."
"The absurdity of the situations and the deadpan line deliveries suggest another dark comedy," writes Christoph Huber in Cinema Scope, "but the undercurrents are more scary than hilarious, abetted by fragmented framing and generally outstanding camerawork by veteran Christos Voudouris (in his first feature job since New Greek Cinema legend Alexis Damianos's 1995 epic maudit The Charioteer): often just the person closest to the camera will remain in focus, with the rest of the image reduced to an enigmatic sea of shapes and colours, the characters adrift in a barely comprehensible environment. A truly original work and a masterpiece of contemporary existentialism, confirming Lanthimos as Europe's most pertinent hope in an arthouse cinema suffocating in the alienation-boredom of Haneke et al."
Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek: "I'm not sure Alps cuts as deeply as so many of my colleagues seem to think it does, but it's still an intriguing piece of filmmaking that could attract some love from the jury here, possibly the director's prize, the Silver Lion."
Update, 9/9: "Like a coroner with an impertinent sense of humor, Lanthimos piles up the absurdities like corpses," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "His new movie doesn't invite an audience into the insanity; it simply demands to be stared at, in awe or incomprehension."
Updates, 9/13: For the AV Club's Scott Tobias, Lanthimos's "intelligence and ambition are still very much in evidence — and a few scenes, like those involving rhythmic gymnastics and its implements, are sharp — but in every way, Alps feels like a pale shadow of its predecessor."
"Alps may not win many converts to Lanthimos's unique vision, but for me," writes Tom Hall at Hammer to Nail, "that vision remains a vital and necessary contribution to cinematic storytelling."
Update, 9/14: "As rigorously Bressonian as his films' now apparently de rigueur performance style is, there is still room for spontaneity," notes Josef Braun. "There are moments when his protagonist — beautifully played by Aggeliki Papoulia — becomes so immersed in the people she's temporarily resurrecting that emotional or guttural responses break up, or rather transcend her deadpan. There are real people with real feelings in Alps — it's just that they're placed in situations that interrogate the very notion of how feelings are expressed."
"If [Lanthimos] was an indie band, this new movie would be the follow-up to his big breakthrough record," notes Tim Grierson, "and so it makes sense to view Alps as a sort of transitional album. Where it leads, no one can say."
Updates, 9/15: "As with Dogtooth, the premise treads dangerously on the edge of falling into gimmickry, but Lanthimos's counter-intuitive maneuvering keeps things slippery, a kind of stylistic response to his films' underlying concerns with the tyranny of convention," Fandor's finds Kevin B Lee.
"It's like Dogtooth without teeth," suggests indieWIRE's Eric Kohn.
Update, 9/18: "Lanthimos's fantasy world is once again a fully realized space," writes Phil Coldiron at the House Next Door, "and he breaks it up into shards of shallow focus and constrictive composition that move against the emotional currents of the story — which the less said about the better, not because of cheap twists, but because its power depends greatly on the gradual revelation of a full understanding of the characters' relationships…. It's truly exciting to see a director of obvious talent willing to challenge himself like this: Lanthimos has made his most demanding film on every level, and one of the smartest works of the 21st century, in art or theory, on how and why we watch movies."
Update, 9/20: Mark Olsen talks with Lanthimos for the Los Angeles Times.
Alps is competing in Venice and will screen in Toronto. If you're headed to Toronto, tiffr is a simple yet powerful way to schedule your festival. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.