A hospital nurse who’s part of a mysterious Greek quartet offering specialized services for the bereaved goes rogue in “Alps,” scribe-helmer Yorgos Lanthimos’ anticipated follow-up to his much-laureled “Dogtooth.” Conceived along the same lines as that film, as well as those of producer Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg,” Lanthimos’ latest offers another heady mix of peculiar occurrences, anthropological and Freudian insights into the human species and contempo society, and a particularly wicked sense of humor. Result feels less innovative than its predecessors, though this formally rigorous pic should nonetheless see substantial fest play and niche theatrical action.
The titular group congregates in the gym of an unnamed city where a demanding and burly coach (Johnny Vekris) teaches rhythmic-gymnastics routines to a supple, reed-thin gymnast (Ariane Labed, “Attenberg”). Besides this duo, Alps consists of an independent-minded nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia, the older sister in “Dogtooth”) and the head of this secret society of sorts, a paramedic with the nickname Mont Blanc (Aris Servetalis, from Lanthimos’ “Kinetta”).
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Their trade is a simple one: Offer the bereaved the chance to hire one of them to replace their lost loved one for a couple of hours a week, supposedly to ease them into the idea of letting go. With two of the Alps members working at a hospital, their shady operation is well placed to find new clients. But when the nurse finds the perfect person to replace, a 16-year-old tennis player (Maria Kirozi) who sustained fatal wounds in a car accident, she tells her colleagues the girl has miraculously healed and takes on the grieving family by herself.
The ideas of distorted reality and make-believe, already present in “Dogtooth” and “Attenberg,” are placed centerstage here. In their films, Lanthimos, co-scripter Efthimis Filippou (seen here as an English-speaking lighting-shop owner) and Tsangari have come up with a 21st-century equivalent of Greek drama, where through utter artifice — masks in the ancient theater; narrative absurdities here — something true can be revealed about man (which very much includes women) and the way they function in society.
That said, while the themes of sex, death and family, and the myriad and sometimes disquieting ways in which they are connected, are clearly present, auds will once again have to connect the dots themselves, which means mileage will vary.
The cumulative force of the screenplay and Yorgos Mavropsaridis’ editing is not as hypnotic as in “Dogtooth,” perhaps in part because those familiar with Lanthimos’ 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.)
Lanthimos again displays an impressive formal command that extends from the screenplay to the pic’s technical prowess. Widescreen, shallow-focus lensing is beautifully composed and pays special attention to the faces of the actors, who again inhabit a space somewhere between theatrical and natural, befitting characters who are often involved in role play themselves. Further craft contributions are all topnotch.