Alps (aka Alpeis)

Aggeliki Papoulia in Alps

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

3 August

 

Jesse Owens wins the 100 metres, 1936

On this day in 1936, Jesse Owens won the 100 metres at a race meeting hosted by Adolf Hitler, a man who believed the black man was inferior to the white man.

It was one of four gold medals Owens won at the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936, and it put the hat on a great year for Owens. He’d set three world records in less than an hour the previous year at the Big Ten track meeting, which has since been called “the greatest 45 minutes in sport”.

Hitler did not shake the hand of Owens to congratulate him, but then Hitler didn’t shake any of the victors’ hands after the first day, having decided, after a “shake all or shake none” request from the Olympic committee, that he’d shake none.

Whether Hitler stormed out after Owens’s 100 metres victory is moot, though Owens later asserted that Hitler did wave to him from his box – “He waved at me and I waved back”.

Owens later also pointed out that President Roosevelt – wary about losing southern votes – never invited him to the White House. “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

 

 

 

Alps (2011, dir: Giorgos Lanthimos)

Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to Dogtooth is an altogether trickier beast.

If Dogtooth told the story of a weird upbringing in a slightly less than straightforward way, Alps for a good long time is hard to get any handle on at all.

In scene one we meet a gymnast (Ariane Labed) practising for an event, who has the temerity to suggest to her coach how her training might proceed. He responds by threatening her with extreme violence.

In scene two, entirely unconnected, we meet a doctor comforting parents whose daughter is in a terminal condition. But instead of talking about the patient inquiring how mum and dad are doing, the doctor starts to babble on about her own life, how she likes to play tennis too, and so on. It’s all very perplexing.

Things carry on in this vein, with things not quite adding up and characters behaving in ways that don’t seem appropriate for the situation. At one point people stop speaking in Greek and start talking in stilted English; at another the members of the athletics team drop their own names and each takes the name of an Alpine summit. Well that’s the film’s title explained, at least.

But what the hell is going on? It’s usual at this point to say “all becomes clear” or something similar. Except in Alps clarity is always just out of reach. Though as these baffling scenes pile up it does seem to become possible that we’re watching a film about surrogates, in the mould of Holy Motors maybe, a possibility that becomes more likely once we get to the scene where the doctor offers to come around to the grieving parents’ house a couple of times a week and pretend to be their dead daughter.

It is all a very odd, rather remote story and Lanthimos matches the idea to the visuals, his framing always slightly off, with bits of door architrave or other objects often breaking up the frame, shallow depth of focus, shots held for deliberately too long.

I’ll admit I never quite understood the film. If it’s saying that we’re all kind of sleepwalking through life, living according to pre-written scripts, well that’s a bit crass, isn’t it?

In Dogtooth Lanthimos tried a similar narrative approach, and right near the end he dropped the “ahaa” scene where everything was explained. In Alps I don’t think it ever comes, or if it did I missed it, or I saw it and it failed to register, or I registered it but it didn’t do it for me.

Does this matter, is the question. I’m not sure it does, entirely. The film would be mysterious even if it played out entirely comprehensibly, without Lanthimos holding his cards so close to his chest. But its oddness does give rise to the sort of laughs that die as they’re being born. And its notion of surrogates is a fascinating one. Go for Dogtooth is you fancy an easier ride.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Fourth feature by the talented Lanthimos
  • The beautifully cool cinematography by Christos Voudouris (Before Midnight)
  • Existential, and then some
  • Tricksy, but it works

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Alps – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

11 March 2013-03-11

Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master

Out in the UK this week

 

 

 

The Master (EV, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s interesting rather than great follow-up to There Will Be Blood follows shell-shocked war veteran Joaquin Phoenix into the ranks of what looks like Scientology in its early days. Like his films Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, The Master deals with fakery and the narratives people live by, Philip Seymour Hoffman giving it lots of Orson Welles orotundity as the cult’s charismatic leader, while PTA lays on the period detail with a cultural anthropologist’s precision, demonstrating how you went about building a new religion from nothing in the mid 20th century – a cooky mix of patrician Bloomsbury socialism, cheap Freud/Jung regression hypnotics and lots of science fiction, it turns out. But in spite of the film being called The Master, it’s not Seymour Hoffman we’re following but Phoenix, as a wiry, wired redneck like some wind-tanned character out of a Depression era dustbowl photograph. It’s a standout performance, too good, too unsympathetic for an actual Oscar (though he was nominated).

The Master – at Amazon

 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (Entertainment One, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

“The Volturi, they’re coming for us.” The interminable franchise finally comes to an end and the Volturi probably don’t come half fast enough if you’ve never been convinced by the “it’s not my fault” whingeing of Kristin Stewart, playing the girl who initially values her hymen over her humanity (until she doesn’t), who has cock-teased a glowering werewolf while making the two-backed beast with a pasty-faced 109-year-old vampire. To give it its due, this finale, which starts out as deathly boring as the others, does pick up once Michael Sheen, playing king of the Volturi, arrives to lay on a full two kilos of ham. And right at the end, after the big battle scene, there’s the bonus of a 15-minute montage of all the best bits of all the films, and a reminder of all the characters who’ve featured, some of whom we’ve come to almost recognise. As I say, a slow start, but director Bill Condon does eventually get the ball into the air, and knows how to shape a drama and pull off a happy finish. And as that slightly off-colour remark suggests, I’m too old, too lacking in innocence and the wrong gender for the whole Twilight thing, in spite of which the film actually left me with a smile on my face and the beginnings of a tear in the eye.   

Small Town Murder Songs (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

An extremely flavoursome film about a cop (excellent Peter Stormare) investigating a murder in a raggle-taggle town with a large Mennonite community. A film that stands out for several reasons. But mainly because of its focus on backstory. There’s a hell of a lot more of it than whatever its opposite is (front story?), and the puzzle of the film is working out – and this happens from the very opening scene – the history of this impassive cop who looks like he’s struggling with something mighty inside. Then there’s the mighty soundtrack, a whooping, hollering churchy thing. Plus the cast of incidental characters, clearly all related, their big moon faces suggesting they’re perhaps just a little too related, if you know what I mean. Smalltown, oppressive, very nicely done.

Alps (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD)

At some point in the oddball, offbeat, attenuated, distant and mysterious Dogtooth, the Greek writer/director Giorgos Lanthimos delivered the final bit of information that allowed us to work out what was going on. In his cool, weird follow-up – following a doctor who seems to be living out her life in a series of surrogate situations (a theme also explored in Holy Motors) – that missing bit of information never actually arrives. Result: utter perplexity.

Room 237 (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)

A documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining and the many theories about what it’s “really about” – it’s about the genocide of the American Indian, or the fake moon landings, or the Holocaust, or the myth of the Minotaur. One theory even suggests the carpets in the Overlook Hotel are giving off erotic messages, or something. Room 237 is internet chatroom madness in filmic form in other words. A disclaimer at the beginning of this documentary takes extreme pains to point out that this film represents neither the view of Kubrick, the Kubrick estate, nor the makers of The Shining (Warner Bros, presumably), though given the amount of access that director Rodney Ascher has obviously been given to  Kubrick’s films, someone somewhere in official Kubrick world thinks this film is a Good Thing. It is. And you get to see again the feral ranginess of Jack Nicholson in his prime going nuts in the Overlook Hotel, which is also always a good thing too.

Sister (Soda, cert 15, DVD)

Undeniably atmospheric though strangely formless, this French drama is about a young thief (Kacey Mottet Klein) doing very nicely thank you by robbing from the rich people at the ski resort he lives alongside, and his difficult relationship with his similarly skanky sister (Léa Seydoux, all Kate Moss cheekbones and cool). Director Ursula Meier made Home, a film about a family living next to a motorway, and Sister also deals in strained family situations, avoids easy cliches and crafts a simple, almost old-fashioned argument about the power of affection in everyday life. Yes, that’s Gillian Anderson’s name in the credits, but she’s not in it much. X Files fans need feel no compulsion to check this out (not that I’m saying don’t).

Gayby (Peccadillo, cert 15, DVD)

Yes, that’s a horrible title but it does at least explain the film – about a woman with ticking-timebomb ovaries and her gay best friend having a baby, or trying to at least, while a succession of gay stereotypes are explored, exploded and teased. This is the film that that terrible Rupert Everett/Madonna film The Next Best Thing probably thought it was going to be – witheringly funny about gays (hats off to Jonathan Lisecki, who not only directs but is very funny as a screaming bear) but moreso about urban metrosexuals and what limp-wrists they’ve (we’ve) all become with our yoga and our obsessive sanitising.

© Steve Morrissey 2013