Written and Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari; 2010
Although I’m no Greek film aficionado, it doesn’t take one to figure out that the new film from writer and director Athina Tsangari is a strange observation on the societal and governmental downfall of Greece. Tsangari’s post-modern take on the modernist movement is certainly obtuse, all the while remaining inventive and intriguing.
The film’s main plot involves a naive but mature woman by the name of Marina, played by Ariane Labed. It opens with Marina and her best friend Bella, played by Evangelia Randou, practicing how to kiss — a vivid and awkward scene that immediately places the viewer in a rather surreal world. As the camera finally pulls away and the two break from their act, Marina and Bella begin to engage each other as cats, pawing and hissing and crawling on all fours. The entire opening is strange, especially when one is given almost no context about the characters. Much of the film carries on in the this same pattern, but this first image remains the most vivid.
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The title Attenberg is taken from Marina’s obsession with the films of documentarian David Attenborough, which is knowingly mispronounced when she speaks with Bella. Marina’s infatuation with animals and their behavior is reflected both in her real interactions, and in those moments of make believe which she shares not only with Bella but with her father as well. She’s inhumane when it comes to sexuality and most social experiences,; she’s rigid and cold, the same bland feeling that her father, an ex-engineer, gets from the state of Greece. Attenberg is angular and sharp, a direct comparison to how the area Marina lives has been devised. Bland square buildings stretch along the coast, a characteristic which the father criticizes for being a disgusting trope of modern art.
The film is essentially composed of various vignettes stitched together to tell a vague story, but often feel more like small windows peeking into these character’s lives rather than documents of interactions. As Marina tells Bella, “I have never desired,” and talks about her asexuality while firmly grasping Bella’s bared breast, the sort of animal-like nature of humanity becomes rather obvious. Our desire as humans to lust and to organize things was manifested in the modernist era, but ultimately it just alienated us more than ever from our neighbors. And that’s essentially what Attenberg is about, what humans experience means in relation to our animal heritage. Sure, Marina’s father dies of cancer and she eventually loses her virginity to a stranger, but it’s the way in which Tsangari frames the human emotion, so often childish and animalistic, which makes the film unique and bizarre.