Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth” is probably the flat-out weirdest film ever nominated for an Academy Award. In Lanthimos’ follow-up film, “Alps,” he seems to have pulled back from the political allegory of “Dogtooth” to push further into territory that is more emotional though no less abstracted. In it, a small squad of people hire themselves out as substitutes for the recently deceased so that loved ones may more slowly engage with their grief or attempt to recreate favorite moments.
The film takes some deciphering, but once a viewer cracks its code “Alps” opens up into something expansive and rich. Part of what makes Lanthimos so uniquely masterful is that he remains in control while refusing to point toward any singular interpretation. When a character mentions he likes the name “Alps” for their club/business/team/cult because it “in no way reveals what we do” he might be speaking to Lanthimos’ oblique style, which at times seems designed to reveal one thing only to conceal another, storytelling as a series of trapdoors and blind turns.
The film seems to explore emotional identity, how we come to define ourselves in part as projections of how others respond to us. One character (Aggeliki Papoulia from “Dogtooth”) loses herself to the emotional connections of her role playing over the actual people in her own life, while another (Ariane Labed) fights hard not to be broken down, holding onto her sense of self.
Lanthimos plays this all out with a deft sense of the physical — dancing, awkward sex and a stirring and graceful rhythmic gymnastics ribbon routine by Labed — externalizing the mysterious inner worlds he seems determined to explore without conquering.
“Alps.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, Los Angeles.