Night of the giv­ing dead

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILMREVIEWS - TARA BRADY

ALPS/ALPEIS ★★★★ Di­rected by Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos. Star­ring Agge­liki Papou­lia, Aris Serve­talis, Johnny Vekris, Ari­ane Labed, Stavros Psyl­lakis, Efthymis Filip­pou, Maria Kirozi Club, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 93 min A HUS­BAND takes his “wife” out to the store­room at the back of his lighting fix­ture shop, where, in the mid­dle of a par­tic­u­larly del­i­cate sex act, she says “please don’t stop; it feels like paradise”. The words are flat and emo­tion­less and, worse, she’s fluffed the line:” “It feels like heaven,” cor­rects the “hus­band”.

The woman (Agge­liki Papou­lia) is a nurse (at least we think so) and part of an ill-de­fined quar­tet called Alps. Their busi­ness model is sim­ple: the troop im­per­son­ate the re­cently dead so that be­reaved fam­ily and friends might tran­si­tion eas­ily through the griev­ing process. Their prac­tices – throw­ing balls at a rac­quet tied to a co­matose tennis player, per­fect­ing a rib­bon rou­tine for rhyth­mic gym­nas­tics – are harder to de­ci­pher.

At first glance, Greek di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’s fol­low-up to Dog­tooth seems to emerge out out the same pseudo-sci­en­tific mis­chief that gifted us Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind and Skele­tons. On closer in­spec­tion, it’s a less do­mes­ti­cated beast. From the get-go, cin­e­matog­ra­pher Chris­tos Voudouris’s ob­scured shots and the script’s weirdly man­nered di­a­logue strike an ab­surd, dis­cor­dant tone.

Like Dog­tooth, Alps- brand sur­re­al­ism is never L’Age d’Or ri­otous. It’s sneaky and dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing. Late clients are re­peat­edly re­duced to triv­ial, ridicu­lous “likes” lists. They’re pen­dant lamps, Spaghetti Neopoli­tan and Jude Law. De­ter­min­ing the dy­ing’s favourite ac­tor is of para­mount im­por­tance to the Alps crew as a car-crash vic­tim, strug­gling for life in the back of an am­bu­lance, soon dis­cov­ers. “Brad Pitt?” asks the Alps-aligned para­medic. “Just sig­nal.”

At least some of the chilly, glee­fully ob­scu­ran­tist drama scans as po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory. Once again, we’re pre­sented with Greek cit­i­zens strug­gling with ar­bi­trary de­mands and in­her­ited dys­func­tions. Once again, scary, con­trol­ling pa­tri­archs rule the roost.

“Why not work with some­thing more pop?” asks the much-mis­used gym­nast. “I’ll take a jug­gling club and smash your head”, comes her coach’s re­tort. O For­tuna, it is.

Lan­thi­mos’s grander nar­ra­tive scheme con­trasts Papou­lia’s in­creas­ingly un­re­li­able be­hav­iour with Ari­ane Labed’s ded­i­ca­tion to rib­bon work. Ac­cord­ing to Alps’ stark di­chotomy and Papou­lia’s tremen­dous on­screen im­plo­sion, there’s no mid­dle ground be­tween to­tal obe­di­ence and ab­so­lute chaos.

Ul­ti­mately, the film’s ob­tuse mo­ti­va­tions and many de­tours can’t quite com­pete with the suf­fo­cat­ing drama of its pre­de­ces­sor. But Alps pulls the rug out from un­der the viewer with at least as much vigour and dev­il­ment.

Your wish is their com­mand: Alps

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