There are two interesting forms of selfishness being explored in Greek auteurist Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest drama Alps that are rarely confronted in such an affecting manor. An exploration of the ego boost and crash one gets from being involved in someone’s life in an intimate manner and the inability to let go of the memory of a lost loved one, Lanthimos takes a taut, but not entirely unemotional and analytical look at a group of average people that band together almost in secret for a strange job where the two forms of indulgence meet.
The titular group (so named after the famed mountain range as to not be replaceable and not give away their true profession) specializes in allowing families to reunite with their deceased loved ones through the use of a surrogate actor to help blunt the grieving process. Led by a taciturn paramedic who dubs himself Mont Blanc (Aris Servetalis), the group follows a certain mandate to avoid making too lasting of a personal connection on their clients that the other three members can never quite make good on.
The main storyline belongs to a lonely nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia) who wilfully breaks most of her boss’ mandates in secret by becoming sexually involved with a client despite remaining in character. She also becomes transfixed on a patient from her day job, a tennis player falling in and out of a coma that one of her co-workers – a gymnast (Arane Labed) starting to feel pressure from both of her jobs – is set to double as when she passes. There’s also quite a bit involving the final group member, the gymnast’s coach (Johnny Vekris), who finds himself with a strange re-enactment request from a blind woman.
Coming off his similarly rigid and slightly more successful Dogtooth, Lanthimos turns a critical eye to how a commercially idealized version of fantasy has come to replace actual grieving in some cases. Sly and consistent references to pop music and the branding of the city of Los Angeles as something so meaningless that it can appear on the side of a coffee mug showcase the intrinsically selfish side of getting over a loss. The paramedic at the head of the group takes his job so seriously when it’s actually a keenly frivolous expense for anyone to shell out money on. He’s a form of a casting agent and drama coach who always stops short of saying that his work comes by way of some divine right, but his aditude, in the start with the gymnast and towards the end with the nurse, showcases how megalomaniacal he truly is rather than the sort of counsellor he positions himself as. This arc puts him into an interesting counterbalance with the coach who seemingly takes the exact opposite path in the film and who can separate his day job from his work with Alps.
Maybe more time amongst the periphery characters would have been nice since following the nurse does tend to drag a bit at first, especially in her dealings with the tennis player, but Lanthimos injects just enough slight dark humour to make the film consistently engaging on a thematic level. The nurse fully represents the human desire for acceptance, not so much among peers, but around those who don’t share in the same profession. She’s the struggling actress type, but she’s searching for a greater role in life and on a grander stage, and she’s willing to go the extra mile to make a connection no matter how uncomfortable the means might seem.
While there could stand to be a bit more focus on each individual aspect of the story and a bit more involving Mont Blanc and just how he got to be the way he is, Lanthimos still creates an encompassing experience that can make people look within themselves at just how the handle grief and how they present themselves to the world. It holds up an interesting mirror where people might not exactly like what they see, but that doesn’t make it any less vital of a work. Alps asks viewers keep up with the pace of life no matter how off putting it tends to be, and damned if it doesn’t work wonderfully.