The latest bit of mind-altering madness from Greek auteur Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) opens with an enigmatic sequence in which a teenage gymnast (Ariane Labed) twirls around halfheartedly to the ubiquitous sturm und drang of “Carmina Burana.” She collapses in frustration and gets into a discomfitingly deadpan argument with her coach (Johnny Vekris): Why can’t she dance to pop music? To which Coach replies that he’ll break her arms and legs if she ever raises her voice to him again. The exchange feels intimately familiar yet strangely counterfeit, as if the two are playacting their oddball kinship and discord for a small yet receptive audience. You can feel the line separating reality and performance dissipating with each passing second.
His spell cast, Lanthimos immerses his viewers in a defiantly strange tale about a secret society—of which the gymnast and coach are members—that hires itself out to bereaved families to stand in for deceased relatives. That’s all you need to know going in, save the fact that Lanthimos’s talent for off-kilter framing and delayed-laugh nuttiness (there’s a lamp-shop sex scene that features the most hilariously robotic cunnilingus ever given) builds on that unsettling opening to a degree that will frustrate as many as it will enthrall. Puzzling and provocative, Alps has a lingering power and an effect that is thrillingly difficult to define.
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