Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Thursday, March 1 at Film Comment Selects
If Yorgos Lanthimos's previous feature, Dogtooth, examined the tyranny of the motion-picture director, then his follow-up, Alps, explores the lives of actors. The focus is off of instruction-givers: here, those who issue orders usually have their heads chopped out of the frame, or are out of focus, or have their backs to the camera; this is a movie about interchangeability, replaceability, the loss of self. It centers on a group that gets paid to fill in for the recently deceased, playing the dead to help the loved ones they left behind ease through their grief.
So, literally, they're actors, and the film addresses specifically the profession's unique condition: the weird exploitation, the objectification, the sexualization, the coddling—and the potential addiction to assuming another's life. But it's also more broadly about identity. Are we and the people we care about simply sets of preferences, tics, and sets of knowledge that can be recreated through a script? Are we defined by our basic personal details, like our favorite American actors? Are we really so easily impersonated?
Lanthimos considers such questions coldly; Alps is shot in his familiar style: the icy sexuality, the deliberate framing, the steady pacing, the detached storytelling. His surrealism is most troubling for his refusal to be troubled by its surreality. (Why doesn't anyone in the movie think it's strange that people are being paid to pretend to be people who are dead? Or that the actors don't even look anything like the people they're playing?) Strangely, the movie is a character study of a fictional character, a fabrication, a woman who spends more time playing those who others want her to be than she does being herself. Nearing the end of the movie, you start to question the reliability of any of our assumptions about the relationships we've seen in her life—is that really her father?—and by extension those in our own lives. Are we all just playing parts? Following cultural scripts? Being who others want us to be? Fuck.