Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2012 6:09 am 
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Yorgos Lanthimos : Alps (2011)--SFIFF



Playing Yorgos' games

In his new film, Alps, Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos departs from the hermetic family worlds of his previous film Dogtooth and his colleague Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg but with an equally oddball construct. This time the focus is on a small group who offer bereavement counseling in the form of role-playing. Members of the "Alps" group do impersonations of the deceased for a family as a stop-gap till they have come to terms with the dead loved one's absence. This works for you if you have enjoyed the previous films, but otherwise you may be left out in the conceptual cold. Lanthimos' deadpan oddity and self-confidence as a filmmaker, coupled with a high level of formal accomplishment, help carry things along, though the element of surprise is lacking for anyone who has seen the previous two and this film is also inherently gentler and less provocative than Lanthimos' last one, which was so much celebrated and discussed.

The premise is of course preposterous and no bereaved would be likely to agree to someone pretending to be their dead lover or relative. Though no one questions this, there is also no sign the ritual impersonations actually comfort the bereaved. But it's the essence of Lanthimos' method that peculiar premises are strictly adhered to and not questioned. He creates a world of firm control whose insanity makes us ponder the wisdom of human premises and rituals.

Lanthimos is original and compels festival-goers and devotees of the challenging film to pay attention. As Eric Kohn says in his Toronto review of this film, "Lanthimos' ability to make a twisted situation both credible and emotionally involving has no contemporary parallel." But Kohn adds a warning others also have sounded: that the director's "thematic consistency now runs the risk of rendering his frightening concepts more familiar than they should ever become." When the frightening becomes familiar it is no longer frightening and stops being stimulating to audiences. A filmmaker like Lanthimos runs the risk of generating a body of diehard fans and equally adamant foes. My aim is to be neither.

Alps . 93min, was co-authored with Efthymis Filippou, with cinematography by Christos Voudouris. It debuted at Venice and then was at Toronto, Pusan, and other festivals in 2011. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, showing April 20, 21, and 24, 2012. Kino Lorber has bought the film for US distribution.

This is a preview. My full review will appear when the film is released in the US, which is promised for spring 2012.

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