SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 26, 2011
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Writer: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Starring: Ariane Labed, Giorgos Lanthimos, Vangelis Mourikis
Writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg opens with a few feeble attempts at open-mouthed French kisses exchanged between Bella (Evangelia Randou) and Marina (Ariane Labed). The absurdly uncomfortable exercise is not one that is fueled by hormones or attraction, but is purely a learning experience; the purportedly sexually advanced Bella is hopelessly attempting to teach her sexually naive 23-year old best friend, Marina, how to kiss.
Marina still resides with her dying father, Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), the architect who, back in the 1960s, developed the drearily concrete seaside town that they still inhabit. A daddy’s girl from her id to her super-ego, Marina and her father enjoy an absurd yet loving relationship that occasionally borders on taboo. We sense that Marina’s primary impetus to finally become sexually awakened is her father’s terminally ill condition, as if she is trying to replace her father’s love…or something like that.
Marina is the focal point of Attenberg and the audience quickly learns to observe Marina in the same manner in which she observes the world around her. Marina has learned most of what she knows about the world by studiously watching (alongside her father) Sir David Attenborough’s nature television programs. She perceives the world as a giant zoo; people are just another animal species and cities/towns are the cages that contain them. It is no wonder she views the world in this manner as she lives in a town that seems to be physically walled off from the rest of the world; being the only child of a single parent has proven to further shelter Marina from “normal” life experiences.
Tsangari provokes the audience to study Marina as if she is one of Sir David Attenborough’s subjects (we are prompted to “[escape] imaginatively to live in another creature’s world”) as Marina discovers that she is a sexual being and explores the related implications. We clinically observe Marina’s advanced communication techniques (she speaks in Greek, sings in French, plays strange rhyming word games with her father, and makes animal noises for no particular reason), her wildly expressive movements (she and Bella walk/dance in carefully choreographed movements), and her obscure musical tastes (her favorite song is Suicide’s “Be Bop Kid”) in order to develop a novel ethnographic hypothesis explaining what the behaviors of this virgin sub-species of Homo sapiens might possibly mean to humankind.
Attenberg is certainly not as fantastically absurd as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, which Tsangari produced, but the two Greek films do share a certain cinematic kinship in farcically discussing the effects of overly restrictive parenting, specifically related to the social and sexual repression of the offspring. One might say that Attenberg is like the mellow chaser used to calm the crazy rush after experiencing the sheer frenzy of Dogtooth, but it is certainly no less meaningful and pervasive.