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Alps by Giorgos Lanthimos

January 19, 2013

Alps is a disconcerting film: we have out of focus images and a story whose sense is hard to gather, the only way out is trying to reconstruct what Lanthimos deconstructed. Alps is a team of peculiar social workers: they sell their services to persons or families who have lost a loved one, they replace him/her – the first four hours are free of charge – they are good at this because just like the Alps they are unmistakably mountains, but at the same time they can be stand ins for other mountains, they are not an Everest. The theme of replacement/substitution is the easier to understand – at least if we look at it from an historical perspective: replacing a dead person with a living one who has no relation to the family was a common practice in many human societies. We can think of the ancient Rome and its adoption system, but the most common scheme – the one of which we can find many examples – was to kidnap and replace, the Native Americans used it, the most famous episode involves Pocahontas and John Smith (see: American Colonies by Alan Taylor), the most recent example of replacement that I can remember was in Hitler’s Germany (many sources, see Nancy Huston‘s powerful novel Fault Lines).

The replacement system is a dismissed and forgotten usage, its resurgence in the film seems an absurd novelty, mourning today is a strictly personal matter, Lanthimos seems to revive it here with new characteristics: just like every service in a capitalist world you have to pay for it, the persons providing it are volunteers and seem even more needful of assistance than their customers. This overall confusion – this mass of people at loss – could explain the constant lack of focus – the difficulty to find what to focus on – of the images, my guess is that the key to the film is not the mysterious and intimidating leader of the Alps – Mont Blanc – but the troubled Monte Rosa (Aggeliki Papoulia): at the end of the film she will be ejected from the Alps because she has kept for herself what belonged to the group, you have to play by the rules of the group, just like the rhythmic gymnast girl – that we saw badly treated in the first scene – who receives her recognition during the closing scene. Is this a film about our need to be a member of a group? the price we pay for it and the price of going solo? maybe, this full length confusion can be a sign of our times but its cinematic value is even more doubtful than the feature itself.

  1. I became so frustrated by this film by the end. I was given nothing to latch onto and very little to think about.

    • ismokecigars permalink

      I know what you mean, it has a fuzzy concept and a puzzling execution.

  2. steve kimes permalink

    I was very frustrated at this film. I couldn’t understand what exactly it was going after. Perhaps that is my fault and not the film’s, but I cannot recommend this one. Unpleasant people doing unpleasant things (which is Dogtooth as well), but it made no sense to me, either.

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