Feb. 06, 2013 - Issue #903: Moment by moment
As seen on small screens
Our new column highlights films overlooked in Edmonton
Here was an unlikely story. A filmmaker nobody's heard of from a country whose cinema nobody follows gets together with an ensemble of actors nobody's heard of and makes a low-budget, ingeniously batshit, rather disturbing and disturbingly hilarious movie about family, repression, sensory deprivation and role-play. It's celebrated at festivals but gets only a handful of screens in its North American theatrical release. Then, shockingly, it gets an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, a category normally reserved for the heartwarming, the cozily ethnic, the supposedly socially pertinent (and preferably with high production values, please). The film, titled Dogtooth (2009), lost to Susana Bier's In a Better World (2010), which was nothing if not (falsely) heartwarming, supposedly socially pertinent and made with high production values. Whatever—Dogtooth was nominated! A striking development, you think, and surely a major boost for the film's author, Yorgos Lanthimos.
Along comes Lanthimos' follow-up, Alps (2011), which, like Dogtooth, stars the heroic, gangly and captivating Aggeliki Papoulia. It too does well at festivals. Like Dogtooth, it has a brilliantly weird premise that allows for a blackly comical, quasi-anthropological study of human behaviour. It's about a small, cult-like group offering a novel service: if someone you love has died, call "Alps," and they will send a substitute to assume the role of your dearly departed, comforting you through the shock until you're ready to move on and accept loss. This is a story about the strange nature of grief, but even more so about what drives people to become actors. Papoulia's character is the all-too-apt pupil, getting carried away with the role of a beloved tennis-playing daughter who died from injuries sustained in an accident. Acting the part of another has a way of revealing a seeming paucity of self. And as any actor knows, it can be tough to come down once the show closes or production wraps.
Anyway, Alps is terrific. A close relative of Dogtooth, yet fresh and inventive. It barely got released anywhere. It's currently available on a no-frills DVD from Kino Lorber. Lanthimos has left his economically fraught homeland to seek opportunity elsewhere. I've met him, and I'm too not worried about him; he seems confident and resourceful. But I worry about the life of movies like his, so challenging, yet so full of promise. V
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