By Don Simpson | June 12, 2012
Director: Giorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Giorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris, Ariane Labed, Aggeliki Papoulia, Stavros Psyllakis
People sometimes do very strange things to cope with the loss of a loved one; for example, in writer-director Giorgos Lanthimos’ Alps they hire an actor from a highly skilled collective to temporarily assume the role of the deceased. The collective goes by the name Alps. Why? Well, Mont Blanc (Aris Servetalis) — the de facto leader of the Alps — explains that while the majestic European mountain range is irreplaceable, the individual mountains of the Alps can seamlessly replace any other mountain in the world. Sure the Alps mountain may not resemble the one that it is replacing; but as part of the Alps, it possesses the innate ability to convince you otherwise. Similarly, Mont Blanc’s team of actors may not look like the deceased person, but they utilize their role playing talents to persuade their paying customers to go along with the charade.
So, whereas Lanthimos’ last film Dogtooth creates an elaborately surreal metaphor to examine a tyrannical director’s regime, Alps explores the relationships between actors, the characters they portray and their clients (read: their audience) — specifically discussing the deeply ingrained exploitation, objectification and sexualization (especially of women). Time and time again, Lanthimos satirically shoves the overt fallacies of acting in our face. He sardonically reveals how actors tend to over-rely upon props while over-simplifying their character’s personality traits. Lanthimos also mocks the dissociative and distracting effects of actors who do not resemble — or sound like — the characters they are portraying.
For Lanthimos, acting is an ego-maniacal profession in which actors assume they can convincingly become anyone. This can also be perceived as desperation, as the members of Alps fight to cling onto their false identities; all the while they try to shed their personal realities. This is quite the opposite to the perspective of Dogtooth, which focuses on a group of characters who are helplessly attempting to break out of the unnatural roles that have been forced upon them. In Alps, the actors willingly succumb to persecution, abuse and condescension in order to have the opportunity to escape their own lives and take on another personality.
On a much more general level, Alps playfully blurs the definition of family; especially the interchangeability and replaceability of loved ones. The easiest way to deal with grief is by sheer ignorance; pretending that nothing has changed. Sure, Alps may seem like a totally absurd and exaggerated approach to this philosophy. Everyone in the film accepts the fact that people are paid to replace dead people and it does not matter that the replacements do not resemble the people whom they are portraying. No one questions this practice or the lack of authenticity and truth, it is perceived as being perfectly normal. If this all seems a little too ridiculous for you to fathom, maybe you should check out Bart Layton’s documentary The Imposter before jumping to any conclusions.
Alps can also be seen as a comment on human nature. When it comes down to it, are we not all just playing roles? Are we not abiding by cultural norms and guidelines, like actors adhering to their script? We conform to society’s whims in order to become who our friends and family want us to be. We purchase wardrobes and props to ensure society’s acceptance of us. According to society, what defines a person? Sometimes it really seems as simple as: their favorite Hollywood actor; their favorite sport; their favorite band; their favorite food.
Lanthimos and cinematographer Christos Voudouris establish a very rigid environment with their mise-en-scène. Our perspective is deliberately restricted with a shallow depth of field and constrictive compositions. Lanthimos and Voudouris find various ways to steer our focus away from certain characters, purposefully lopping off their head with awkward framing, or keeping them out of focus, or always shooting towards their back. The lighting and color scheme emit a cold and inorganic air. Indoor scenes appear sterile and secluded, with carefully controlled sound; outdoor spaces are foreboding (such as the crashing waves of the beach). Like the actors, the environment of this film is undeniably fake; we are constantly reminded of Lanthimos and Voudouris’ omnipotent presence behind the camera. It is just one more layer of the inherent fallacy of the cinematic medium.