Until a couple of years ago, few outside his native Greece were aware of theater director-turned-filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. But when his third film, "Dogtooth," came from seemingly nowhere to win the top prize at Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009, it kicked off a process that's deservedly seen the helmer become one of the most closely-watched international filmmakers around. Other than a producing and acting role in the rather-less-good "Attenberg," he's been quietly working away on a follow-up, the pitch-black "Alps," which screened for the press here in Venice tonight. And the good news is, it's just as remarkable as his breakthrough.
We're going to say this only once. We recommend you go in to "Alps" as cold as possible. It's not quite like anything you've seen (its closest relative being, well, "Dogtooth"), and part of its pleasure is watching it play out. There's no giant twist or anything, but we're glad we saw it the way we did: knowing only a brief synopsis, and nothing else. Having said that, we do have a review to write. But proceed with caution after the jump, as it were.
It's not quite the ensemble piece that it might sound like, the focus landing principally on the nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia, the only cast member to recur from "Dogtooth"). As the group's newest member, and its most independent, the majority of scenes are spent with her, while the leader Mont Blanc by necessity remains an enigma. The gymnast ("Attenberg" star Ariane Labed, who's superb here) and coach (Johnny Vekris) have a fruitful, fascinating relationship, with major scenes bookending the film, but they're generally in support to Papoulia, whose part has similar DNA to her role of the older daughter in the earlier film, while also proving distinct.
"Alps" is, principally, a film about grief, about how you deal with a parent, or a spouse, or a child, or a friend, who's suddenly no longer around. It's also, to some extent, about acting and actors -- the nurse is almost always playing a role, becoming something of a blank slate when she's not. Not that the members of Alps are chameleons; the blank readings they give when inhabiting the deceased gives the scenes a deeply unnerving quality.
Lanthimos continues to prove himself a supremely controlled, disciplined filmmaker: his use of focus alone could form the basis of a film school class, and it's always interesting to note what he doesn't show, frequently cutting off or obscuring faces and relying on body language. "Alps" has proven Lanthimos to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers anywhere right now, and, while there's no immediate news on when it'll hit on the U.S., or anywhere outside Greece, we're confident it'll be one of the most talked-about films of the next year: with so much to talk about, how could it not be? [A]