★★★ / ★★★★
A nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia), a gymnast (Ariane Labed), a coach (Johnny Vekris), and a paramedic (Aris Servetalis) offer a bizarre service: they approach people in states of grief due to a death of a loved one and offer to take their place. They consider themselves as facilitators between a dark time and acceptance. All seems well until a tennis player (Maria Kirozi) dies and the nurse decides to work with the family of the deceased without consulting her group first. As she gets deeper into the former tennis player’s life, she becomes unaware of the fact that separating her duty from who she becomes increasingly difficult.
Although the premise of “Alpeis,” based on the screenplay by Efthymis Filippou and Giorgos Lanthimos, may seem like a ridiculous gimmick, it is surprising that the material is handled with respect. It inspires us to make our own conclusions with regards to what is happening and its implications instead of spoon-feeding us a plot that follows familiar tracks within a specific genre. Through an unfaltering detachment from its subjects, we as audiences are scientists who are given the chance to observe specimens interact with one another in an isolated environment.
Many will find it strange that people will actually invite total strangers into their lives by playing a role of a loved one who has just passed away. I did not. It is shown several times that each member of the quartet has a certain way of persuasion in order to get something they want. Combine that with people who are hurting and vulnerable, it becomes easier to buy into the reality of the picture. Although the set-up is languorous, it is important to pay attention to the different personalities and their foibles. Without a feel for what each one is about, it is understandable for someone to label the film as an exercise in the abstruse rather than a intelligent commentary of how we take who we are for granted and the extent in which we affect the lives of those we love and care about.
The services performed flow seamlessly with the quartet’s every day lives. There is little attempt to make themselves look like the person they are impersonating. Most depend on behavior like the type of words frequently used, the biting of the nails, and habits after a particular activity. There are no flamboyant wigs, heavy makeup, or changing diction as we come to expect from method actors. It is critical that everything appears normal. The illusion is shattered, however, when the characters start speaking. We are made aware that a job is being performed when people talk to one another in somewhat of a monotone as if reading off a script. There is an uneasy comedic touch in these scenes.
“Alps,” directed by Giorgos Lanthimos, is not especially beautiful to look at but it does offer some memorable images partnered with its themes. A pattern that stood out to me is that the customers’ faces are almost never seen clearly. They consistently look down. When they look straight ahead, the camera is angled to capture their profiles only. When not in profile, faces are shrouded in darkness or are far enough to be blurry. Maybe it is meant to preserve their anonymities, a suggestion that they feel ashamed for hiring someone to help them through their mourning.