Alpeis (Alps) (2011)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Angeliki Papoulia, Ariane Labed, Aris Servetalis
Alps is the third film from controversial greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who is well known for his Oscar nominated film Dogtooth. The story unravels around a group misfits, who form a group named Alps. A nurse, an ambulance driver, a gymnast and her coach. They approach the families who have lost someone recently and offer to replace the deceased loved ones for a period of time. At this time they will try to mimic the deceased person to fill in their empty places. This will help the families to overcome the grief and plus it’s a business plan that can bring additional income for the group. Here is how the ambulance driver who is obviously the leader of the team explains, why he had chosen “Alps” as for the name for the group:
“After spending a lot of time, I ended up with the name Alps…Alps for two important reasons, first one, it does not by any means reveal what we are doing. And the second one is purely symbolic. No other mountains can stands in for the mountains of Alps! Anything else would be smaller and less imposing, therefore, a poor substitute ! …while nobody can stands in for them, they can stand for all others !”
The plot mainly evolves around the nurse (Angelika Papoulia), who also appeared in Dogtooth as the older sister. As an Alps member, she is playing the role of the dead Canadian girlfriend of an abusive lighting shop owner and at the same time also the best friend of an old lady with whom her deceased husband had an affair. She finds more comfort in these roles that she is playing than her actual life. This is the reason why she decides to take the next “job” on her own. The things get out of hand as she decides to take the next case on her own without involving the group, she wants it only to herself! The job is to replace a deceased young female tennis player. Slowly the border between the role playing and her real life will be blurred, as she takes the dead girl’s boyfriend home and introduces him to her father. Soon her solo act will be discovered by the ambulance driver, this leads to her sever punishment by the ambulance driver and her exile from the group. This is where it gets disturbing, as she realizes that she can not live her normal life anymore. She needs this role-playings more than her customers.
There are many open aspects, characters and subplots in the film that stay unexplained till the end, but this is the reason why I like Lanthimos works. He never tries to dictate the whole plot, there is always place for the viewer to think and engage actively to figure some aspects of the story on their own.
The profession of nurse and ambulance driver, make sense for the story, as this is how they track near death patients and contact their families soon after their death to provide their services. But why a gymnast and her abusive coach? This is again one of those open points that needs viewers imagination. Anyhow Ariane Labede delivers again a solid performance like in Athina Tsangari’s Attenberg (2010).
Amazing cinematography from Christos Voudouris includes a lot of unorthodox shots, where the characters are half cut out of the frame, which could indeed portrait the unfitting and inappropriate nature of the scene. See the image below for example where the nurse is playing the role of the dead female tennis player and is in her fathers arms.
Many shots are taken from behind while the characters talking. This kind of shots were mastered by Nouvelle Vague directors like Jean Luc Godard, namely, in vivre sa vie. These shots were very unusual at their time within the Hollywood star system, as super stars were shot in full glory and not from the back of their head.
Snapshot from Alps
Snapshot from vivre sa vie
And of course several of Lanthimos favourite shots where taken with only the main character in focus and all the other persons/components out of focus, an effective way to emphasise on what is important in frame.
At the end Alps is not the story of how people deal with the grief after their loss, but about a group of misfits with an imbecile business idea of playing the role of the deceased one to ease the grief for the families. This is the story of this group and how this roleplaying affects them. In Dogtooth, the director explores the concept of family, in Alps the focus is on death as Love in Lobster his first English language film.
From the film:
Nurse talking to the family of the deceased girl: “Now I have something very pleasant to tell you. I can myself replace her if you want it. Your grief will ease and after a while will disappear completely. A couple of two hours visit per week is enough. The end can be a new better start. It’s up to you. The first four visits you won’t be charged !”
May 2015, Hamed Karkan
Återträffen (The Reunion) (2013)
Director: Anna Odell
Cast: Anna Odell, Sandra Andreis, Anders Berg
The Reunion is the directorial debut of Anna Odell, the controversial Swedish artist/filmmaker. In 2009 Odell was arrested by police and escorted to the psychiatric hospital in Stockholm. She was released shortly after she revealed that she had faked her suicide the whole time for the sake of her final art project at the university. As she mentioned in an interview some years later, the main idea behind her student film “the Unknown Woman (2009)” was to put the spot light on power structure within the psychiatric care system, which in case reminded me of Michel Foucault’s: Madness and Civilisation.
Once again in Reunion, Odell puts the spotlight on the human power structure and hierarchy but this time in a class reunion between the former classmates after 20 years. Odell was a victim of bullying in her time at elementary school and as she hears that there is going to be a reunion after 20 years; she prepares to confront all the bullies from the past. Soon she realizes that party took place some time ago and she was not even invited to the party. This film is her reaction to this whole scenario.
The first part of the film is called: “The Speech”, which is fictional, where she tries to construct the Reunion as if she would have been invited and have participated in it. This section is full of unpleasant and extremely tense moments which is masterfully portrayed by Odell herself as the lead actress. This reminded me of Vinterberg’s dogma 95 film Festen (The Celebration 1998). The second part of the film is called “Meetings”, which is in mock documentary style and very much adopted from actual events. In this part Odell tries to meet up separately with different former classmates, to show them her fictional film (the first part) and to confront them with the complex problems of the past.
From the film:
Anna: “I have thought a lot about the hierarchy that existed in our class and about how the time we shared shaped us…Why some of us were cool while the others were losers…Did we get these positions entirely by chance?”
March 2015, Hamed Karkan
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson
Steven Knight, the writer of Eastern Promises (2007) and Dirty Pretty Things (2002), delivers a flawless performance as director. The entire film takes place in a car with Hardy as the main and only character that we see throughout the whole 85 minutes. But instead of being one dimensional and claustrophobic, knight manages to provide a tense and whirling drama. The story unfolds throughout the several phone conversations that Ivan Locke (Hardy) receives/makes on his trip in his BMW. With each phone call new aspects of Locke’s character will be masterfully unfolded; this plus the mesmerizing cinematography of Haris Zambarloukos and amazing performance from Tom Hardy, make Locke worth enjoyable to watch. In case of cinematography, the limited location and number of actors is masterfully compensated by several cut angles and the views of the highway which is under construction like Ivan’s life.
The story is about Ivan Locke, a successful site manager of a construction company, who is about to receive large amount of concrete for one of the Europe’s biggest construction projects and his presence at the site is crucial. At home, his son is impatiently waiting for him to watch football with him, even his wife bought him his favorite German beer and wore their teams T-shirt for the occasion! But instead of being home and later at work, he is on his way to the hospital to be with 42 years old Bethan (Olivia Colman), with whom he had an affair while ago and now she is having his child.
From the film:
Bethan: Have you even told your wife that someone’s having your baby?
Ivan: I am about to do that…I have a list of things that I have to do tonight while I’m driving.
Bethan: So, am I on the List?
Ivan: Yes. Tonight, yes.
Bethan: Do you Love me?
Ivan: That’s a question you are asking probably because of the pain or something. How could I love you??”
March 2015, Hamed Karkan
Director: Chan-wook Park
Country: UK / USA
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
This is the first effort from the talented Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park to make a film in English language. The film does not meet the high standards set by Park via his previous films, such as the breath taking story telling techniques in “Lady Vengeance (2005)” or further on with his masterpiece “Oldboy (2003)”.
The dialogues seem kind of brittle, not completely shaped and therefore hard to digest. Mia Wasikowska is brilliant like always and we also see a decent performance from Nicole Kidman. But I believe, the superficial dialogues prevent the actors to come out with their full potential.
Aside from the points that I mentioned above, what made me list the film in recommended movies section, is brilliant cinematography and Park’s vision and style of storytelling unique to him. Thankfully, the visual part of his story telling is not lost in translation. I tried to include some of my favorite shots here.
From the film:
India: “My ears can hear what others can not hear. Small faraway things people can not normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing. Longing to be rescued. To be completed…Just as the skirt needs the wind to blow. I am not formed by the things that are of myself alone. I wear my fathers belt, tied around my mothers blouse. And shoes which are from my uncle. This is me….Just as a flower does not choose its colour…we are not responsible for what we have come to be…Only once you realise that you become free…And to become adult…is to become free.”
January 2015, Hamed Karkan
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man who is working as a “Letter writer” at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. He is in the final stages of his divorce while he starts a relationship with an OS (operation system). The story takes place in the future Los Angeles, although lots of outdoor shots including skyscrapers are shoot in Schanghai. For me, one of the most interesting details of the film was Theodores job. He writes Love letter for people who apparently do not have time, or are not capable to write them themselves. He writes the romantic letters and sent them to the receiver. Do the receivers know him? Do they know that he has been writing the Love letters? probably not. In these relationships, he does not exist. He is just a communication tool. He is something like the operating system that he fells in love with. Theodore wears a lot of different Red shirts, the place where he works is highly decorated with red motifs. The emphasis of the colour Red could be also seen in the poster of the film (see above). He wears red, just like the colour of the software: Samantha, see the snapshots where Theodore is sitting in front of his computer and is trying to install the software or where he receives the message: Operating System not found. The same Red.
On the other hand, Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) is an operating system which can evolve, as she explains to Theodor: “What makes me “me” is my ability to grow through my experience. So basically, in every moment I am evolving, just like you! ” Time passes and she develops a consciousness and feels up the role of the missing life partner in Theodore’s life. This is the future Spike Jonze tries to illustrate, where people working the jobs in which they cease to exist and operating systems becoming more lively than humans. Look at the joy and livelihood in Samantha’s voice in comparison with Amy (Amy Adams) other female character who is actively “alive” in Theodors life. It’s funny how the logo of the software resembles the shape of a DNA.
At the end, this is a good film with an original story that tells the story of man’s loneliness in upcoming future. Phoenix once again dedicates himself deeply in a role ( I am still mesmerised by his performance in The Master). Scarlett Johansson is alive and believable as Samantha.
From the film:
Samantha: I caught myself feeling proud of that…you know proud of having my own feelings about the world. Like times I was worried about you…things that hurt me, things that I want. And then, I had this terrible thought. Like, are these feelings even real? Or are they just programming? And that idea really hurts. And then I get angry at myself for even having pain…What a sad trick !
Theodore: You feel real to me Samantha!
Samantha: Thank you Theodore!
May 2014, Hamed Karkan
Director: Lena Dunham
Cast: Lena Dunham, Grace Dunham, Laurie Simmons
This is a story about a college graduate girl who is struggling to figure out what she is going to do with her life. The film is kinda Lena Dunham’s life story itself, a film school graduate with an artist mother and a successful favourite little sister. A young filmmaker who is trying to find her voice. The film is made with relatively low budget and with Dunham’s mother and sister playing as themselves (Aura’s family) and using her mothers actual apartment in Manhattan as the main location . The film brought a huge success for Dunham and criterion publishing her film added to her fame, although many had already discussed that the film would not fit into the criterions catalogue. Tiny Furniture comes from one of Laurie Simmons (Lena’s mother) art shows.
There is something about this indie film that caught my attention, it’s not the plot or the camera, for me it was more the acting and dialogues which seems kinda genuine and of today. Lena is believable and Alex Karpovsky is hilarious as Jed, an ignorant first class A-hole, which is more or less the only type of character that he plays these days and he does a fantastic job. Since 2012, Lena started a successful and sometimes controversial series for HBO called girls, which is written, directed, produced and acted by her. Many call her the voice of the new generation in NewYork, the educated genre who have difficulties in figuring out what they wanna do with their lives.
From the film:
Jed: Like…You know, we met and I thought, hey, this is a funny chick, this is nice, this is easy. You know I am not worrying about wether we are going to make out or some fucking nonsense, you know…
Aura: Mm-hmm, yeah !
Jed: By the way you do sweat the bed !
Aura: I don’t
Jed: Probably more than the average female, I would say !
May 2014, Hamed Karkan
This is just a random thought on my latest post Recommended Movies 11 and the film Borgman (2013) by Alex van Warmerdam
The first thing about the film that fascinated me was it’s poster. This scene/image, which happens a few times in the Film, is picturing Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) sitting naked on top of Marina (Hadewych Minis) while she is sleeping alongside her husband. Borgman sitting there brings horrifying nightmares to Marina.
This image, reminded me of the famous painting(s) by swiss painter Henri Fuseli at 1781 named “nightmare”. This highly erotic oil painting is about a woman who is sleeping while a satanic creature sits on top of her naked. The painting was very successful at it’s time so that Fuseli painted at least three versions of it, one of which is in Frankfurt Goethe Museum.
I thought the similarity between the two images and the topic of both which is nightmare worthed mentioning here.