Methodical and hideously funny in its depiction of a bourgeois family of grown children being raised in isolation, learning to make sense of a patriarchal nightmare, "Dogtooth" came from the Greek stage and film director Yorgos Lanthimos. It walloped a lot of adventurous moviegoers with a taste for jet-black comedy and ended up with an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language picture.
Ritualized, movement-based, drably repetitive interrogations; violence dispensed only after a deadpan exchange of verbal patter; the least sexy nudity imaginable: Lanthimos comes out of a theatrical tradition of Antonin Artaud's "theater of cruelty" and Harold Pinter's political allegories. The filmmaker revisits his primary concerns in the film "Alps," destined to provoke a fair amount of discomfort in its weeklong run at the Siskel Film Center.
Hospital employees by day, a small cadre of "helping profession" workers do a little sideline business aiding those who have recently lost loved ones in accidents or whatnot. Like actors for hire, actors who make house calls, these people portray the deceased to assist family members with the grieving process. They learn what the dead people did in their free time, their favorite movie stars, their favorite foods. "He maybe had a slight preference for pasta," one man tells a colleague at one point, after conducting research on their next assignment.
And on it goes, one twisted vignette easing into another. A haunting standout from "Dogtooth," actress Aggeliki Papoulia, portrays the nurse who is visibly cracking under the psychological (and eventually physical) punishment entailed by this bizarre masquerade. She is enlisted to take up the role of a teenage victim of a car crash. The entire film, which takes its title from the group's code name, requires a rubbernecker's gaze at the metaphoric car crash of a scenario created by Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippouis.
I wish this one rattled around in the brain more provocatively. What was shrewd and artfully sustained (if finally a bit hollow) in "Dogtooth" comes off as studied and attenuated here, even at a trim running time of 93 minutes. The saving grace is Papoulia, whose beauty is shadowed by a wary look in her eyes. She knows how to hang back and let a situation's strangeness come to her, incrementally.
'Alps' -- 2 stars
No MPAA rating (violence, nudity, sexual material).
Running time: 1:33; in Greek with English subtitles.
Plays: Friday-Thursday at the Siskel Film Center.