More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
Not intending, in these first paragraphs, to tell the film, but indicate its significance, one can say that Alps (Alpeis) (2011) opens in the same place, and way, as it closes. Shortly afterwards, there are terrible, very specific threats made to the young gymnast whom we have seen performing (Ariane Labed¹), if she ever doubts again her coach’s (Johnny Vekris’) judgement that she is not ready to dance to pop yet. It is an overt and watchful assertion of assumed power (which is not directly challenged, but through underground measures of a certain naivety² – please see below).
Perhaps not best characterized to ourselves, in naturalistic terms, as the clumsy attempt of the coach, as an egocentric and proud man, to deal with losing face by putting the other three present in fear of reprisals – the fact that they are out of all proportion is the given undercurrent to what happens in this film : the ever-present possibility that one might be found to be in disfavour is what gives an edge of almost Pinteresque proportions to much of the dialogue.
Shortly after confronting the gymnast, the coach puts forward the fatuous suggestion that all four of them should collectively be Alps, and invites the others to say which one they want to be. As well as dealing straight off with the question of the title, this moment is a microcosm, as one chooses Monte Rosa (they are well versed in mountains), and so on. Maybe more by luck than judgement, this leaves him to stake a claim to Mont Blanc, and dominate by his comments about its – and so his – status.
One emphasis in what is expected of them, as with training the body in gymnastics to perform seamless and exact sequences of movements, is on repetition, on getting the words (one’s part) right, otherwise menaces have been made that may be realized – they may not be hanging offences, but we perceive that they could be hanging upside-down offences. Or can one buck the trend or current by pretending to comply² ? That is what Angeliki Papoulia – a nurse and the main character of the four whom we follow³ - tries, and one thing that she succeeds in doing is by buying, apparently through sex, the agreement of the ambulance man (Aris Servetalis) that the young gymnast should be allowed to perform to pop.
The idea and practice of play-acting goes back long before recorded Time, with European examples in the tradition of the Feast of Fools (especially in France) and The Lord of Misrule (also Abbot or King) in late-mediaeval and early-Tudor England. For some, in a film such as Holy Motors (2012), play-acting is something new (and not, heavily reliant on dazzling with what is little more than make-up and prosthetics, a slender conceit on which a whole film desires to found itself), whereas Alps takes it in its stride, and does not try hanging a film on it.)
What form play-acting takes in the film will not be told, but, as we start with a gymnast, one could think mysteriously in terms of a sporting substitution in a team game. The how and why of that, and the significance of who the substitute is, are what the film revolves at its heart, as is the continuing disquiet that the workplace is another nexus of domination : in a way that suggests menace, we hear an enquiry about coffee-mugs, where it seems that something less everyday and innocent is actually being talked about. More effective than The Lobster, for its opacity and lasting registration in the memory, Alps challenges as the best of cinema, theatre and prose can.
¹ She also appears in The Lobster (2015), which this film’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos, likewise co-wrote with Efthymis Filippou.
² Which The Lobster* makes an even larger part of its remit.
³ Although this blog’s review of The Lobster effectively suggests that we may be mistaken about the person whom we are following, there is the same principle there as to the point of view in the film’s being predominantly one person’s.
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)