Director Yorgos Lanthimos made Alps the Greek way
TORONTO—It’s never easy getting over the death of a loved one, but in Yorgos Lanthimos’s award-winning drama Alps, a small group has come up with a unique way to help the grieving: they take on the role of the recently deceased until the mourner is ready to let go.
Speaking in fluent English at the downtown office of his Canadian distribution company, Films We Like, the Greece-born Lanthimos said the original premise (from “a famous cowriter”) was to send letters to loved ones from people who had died. “It didn’t seem right, because it wasn’t very cinematic and wasn’t interesting enough as a film to do that. At some point, because I liked the whole idea, I kept thinking about it and I came with this synopsis saying: “Okay, there’s this woman who works in a hospital, so it’s easy for her to find people that have just lost someone. She offers this service to them and she actually goes and substitutes these people for money.”
The story evolved, making the nurse—played by Aggeliki Papoulia (Lanthimos’s star from his successful feature Dogtooth)—part of a small, secret group. Lanthimos spoke with the Georgia Straight right after his movie’s North American debut at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival following a run at the Venice Film Festival, where the movie received an award for best screenplay and a nomination for the Golden Lion.
The Athens-based director (who was relocating to London) explained that even before his country’s economy crashed, funding films was never easy. He started with money from companies that make commercials, because that’s how he paid his bills. Then the cast, crew, and friends pooled their cash.
“That’s how films are made in Greece; we took the risk. People have to work either for very little money or completely for free. They have to do more than one thing. They have to compromise in doing difficult stuff, like Ariane [Labed, his other deceased-person impersonator] had to work on her own without a nutritionist and without a proper coach full-time to become a gymnast. She had to do that all on her own. Aggeliki was also finding locations for us to shoot. It wouldn’t have happened without friends and people working together to make this thing.”
Asked his favourite aspect of movie-making, Lanthimos quipped, “None.” Then he laughed and offered: “I’ve always asked myself that because everything is so difficult for me. Writing the script is very difficult. Afterwards, then funding it is also impossible for us up to now. Then choosing the actors, or people who are nonactors. It’s quite difficult to make the right decision. You’re always worried that you’re not making the right decision. And then the shoot is like real-life nightmare. We don’t have money enough. We don’t have time. Nothing works like we wanted. We can’t find the right things. And then the editing is very boring.”
Lanthimos laughed again. Naturally, he can’t wait to start work on his next film.
Watch the trailer for Alps.