Two by Lanthimos (REVIEWS: Dogtooth, Alps)

27 05 2016

DogtoothNow that it looks like “The Lobster” is shaping up as a breakout arthouse hit, many people will likely wonder where they can get more of that film’s distinct artistic sensibility. Those folks are also in luck, as co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has two films made in his native Greece readily available to watch.

2010’s “Dogtooth” takes place in a restraining, all-controlling environment not unlike the hotel in “The Lobster.” This time, it’s a compound home in Greece where an oppressive father keeps his offspring contained. Through manipulation and outright lies, he creates a surreal fantasy environment where the adult children need him for their very security and knowledge.

At one point, the patriarch goes to a dog trainer to talk about his philosophy. It plays like Lanthimos messed up their character names in the script. It is this trainer who takes a more humane approach to rearing young minds and the father who treats them like animals. He thinks that his authoritarian control over the household can modulate and control sexual impulses that are not culturally learned but come from a biological imperative.

My first view of “Dogtooth” gave me strong vibes of “Spring Awakening” as retold in the Cinema of Cruelty style. A second go, however, distinctly separated the two. Lanthimos’ film is about the alienation that children come to feel in these environments. These characters are so estranged from the intimacy and sensuality of sex that they listen to music through headphones during the act. The whole film provides a stunning and complete vision of authority, domination and defiance – moods also reflected in the director’s aesthetic choice.

Alps

Lanthimos’ 2012 film “Alps,” on the other hand, waxes a little sweeter (though is no less stark in its portrayal of human feebleness). The name refers to a group of people, and if you cannot figure out the meaning of the name … well, they state that the name does not reveal what they do. The mountains in the Alps cannot be replaced by anything else, as the de facto team leader states.

But ironically, the members of the Alps are replacing others. Their services entail replacing a recently deceased person and masquerading as them to provide a balm for their aggrieved families. Clients essentially hire the Alps to outsource their emotional labor and intimacy, staving off the infamous first step in the Kübler-Ross model: denial.

Lanthimos’ angle on life after another’s death proves quite unique and engaging. He provides a view that shows how some people might actually … enjoy grief. This feeling might be unbearable to those undergoing it, yet the process of mourning can somehow seem attractive and appealing to those observing it from the outside. The members of the Alps see an opportunity both to lose themselves and to start anew in the persona of the newly departed. The grief expressed by their loved ones, who would often rather participate in an illusory present than accept the painful truth, provides them countless opportunities for role play.

“Alps” takes a less self-serious stance towards its characters, and Lanthimos even gives the film over to the occasional fit of divinely inspired black comedy. Even if the film does not quite add up, it still possesses a strange allure that continues to draw me back in. Perhaps one day, with the right combination of cinematic exposure and life experience, the equation will produce the right solution.

Dogtooth: B+ / 3stars
Alps: B / 2halfstars

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