Greek writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos brought us the superbly subversive Dogtooth, one of the finest films of last year which, fantasically, got an Oscar nod. The stunningly shot, twisted drama was so warped the viewer veered between laughter and horror as a mother and father raise their now adult children in disturbing social isolation. Lanthimos handled it with the confidence of a master, as if he were the genius lovechild of Lynch and Haneke.
Unfortunately, his follow-up is a crushing disappointment. Shot roughly and cheaply (there’ll be no Academy Award nominations in 2012), it’s a poor rehash of some of Dogtooth’s situations - the insular group, awkward dance moves, the out-of-context sudden violence and the off-kilter, unsettling dialogue.
The premise is excellent - the Alps are a small group of individuals who offer their services to bereaved families and lovers as surrogates for the dead. The film focuses on a nurse (Dogtooth’s Aggeliki Papoulia), who becomes so involved with her side-job, it’s hard to tell where her real life ends and her work routine begins. As shown in Dogtooth, Papoulia excels in perfectly-judged deadpan delivery, and she handles the family’s requests in a hilariously stilted manner.
Alas, Lanthimos can’t pull off the rest of the group. Like Dogtooth, answers aren’t necessarily required, but here, absurdity without context gets tiresome. The two men in the group are horribly domineering, terrorising the only other woman (Attenberg’s Ariane Labed, whose sole contribution is gymnastics). It feels rushed, incomplete and unrewarding.
The dark humour is most welcome, the meta social commentary less so, but Alps is so unattractively shot it’s an endurance.