My second film at the HKIFF is a rather unusual film, in every sense of the word.
When the film ALPS opens, we see a slim 16-year-old teenage girl training hard on rhythmic gymnastic, ending by tying the ribbon that she used in her dance number tightly around her neck, slumped on the floor, saying that she couldn't do it because the music was classical. She wanted to switch the rhythm to that of pop. Her coach said she could not. She asked why. He told her that she was not ready. She asked again. He repeated that she was ready neither for pop, nor jazz nor a modern dance. She was not convinced. He told her flatly that when he said she was not ready, she was not ready and that she could quit if she wanted to but that if she raised the request again, he would break her arms and her legs.
Next we see the victim of a car accident being rushed to on a trolley to the emergency ward of a hospital, a young girl whose face was completely disfigured. She was attended to by a young female nurse ( Aggeliki Papoulia). She formed a friendship with her and learned that she was a tennis player whose mother was a tennis champion. Her chances of survival were not good and eventually died.
Through talking to a fellow male paramedic at their working room at the hospital, she learned that he was a member of an underground group called the ALPS which offered a peculiar service to their clients: to act as surrogate for the departed dearly beloved of paying clients to help them smooth over the emotional traumas arising from the loss of their loved ones. She was interested and was brought to see the leader of the group. It was the gymnastic coach we saw in the opening scene, who took the pseudonym of Mont Blanc. She was told why the group called itself the ALPS: that's because the Alps is the highest mountain in Europe and could replace any other but not the other way round. She had to swear to abide by the 15 rules of the group: viz. ALPS members must declare in advance the things they
are unwilling to do by filling out Form (e.g. kissing, lifting weights,
travelling etc.), the things they are good at by filling out Form (e.g. dancing, water skiing, discussing etc.), have some basic knowledge of psychology and sociology, are obliged to support, under all circumstances, the interests of the ALPS group, respect each other, have the right to change their nickname only twice but not a
nickname belonging to another Alps member such nickname must be the name of a mountain in the Alps, and not something general or
irrelevant (e.g. Blonde, Master, Dragon etc.), can never talk about ALPS activities with non-ALPS members, are obliged to take the Gymnastics Club Test, if necessary, over 14 years of age, should always be smart, clean, punctual, and in complete control, never get emotionally involved with clients, or have intimate relations with them,not change their physical appearance without the Leader’s permission
(e.g. dye hair, lose or gain weight, wear colored contact lenses etc., must be able to make convincing facial expressions (sadness, happiness, despair etc.), honor the title of their membership, and be ready to kill or die for it and finally never attack one another and must believe in teamwork. She was told she would be told the result after a few days. She was admitted.
From then on, we see her doing various assignments, making two hour stints once every week, dressing and acting and in general assuming another personality and adopting the mannerism of a deceased or departed according to the details supplied by their clients,: first to comfort the owner of a lamp shop for the departure of her girl friend, then to read the gossip column of a local magazine to an old blind lady, then a man for the loss of her teenage daughter. At the end of the film, she was hit with a club at the Gymnast Club and expelled because she broke a rule: she got too emotionally involved with her roles and acted without permission from the group. When the film ends, we see the gymnast dancing to the tune of pop music.
The screenplay was co-written by Efthymis Filippou with the director Yorgos Lanthimo (Kinetta 2004, Dogtooth 2009). It premiered in Greece in October last year and stars Ariane Labed (as the young gymnast), Aggeliki Papoulia (as the nurse or Monte Rosa, her name in the group), Aris Servetalis (the paramedic and assistant coach) and Johnny Vekris ( the coach and Mont Blanc ).
It was a very original film on the activities of a fringe group in Greece, a cool analysis of Lanthimos's home country, its apparent objectivity emphasized by the tinge of blue in the screen images of everything portrayed, perhaps to emphasize the surface calm and objectivity which hides the clandestine emotional pains, the violence and the the secret power of authoritarian male values lurking beneath that deceptively peaceful appearance of contemporary Greek society. It's bizarre tale told in a very unique way peculiar to the sensibility of Lanthimos. However, we are not given any clues to why the women folks submitted to such male authority. It won the best screenplay award at the Venice film festival last year.