Friday, December 21, 2012

Movie Review: Attenberg

Directed by: Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Written by: Athina Rachel Tsangari.
Starring: Ariane Labed (Marina), Giorgos Lanthimos (Engineer), Vangelis Mourikis (Spyros), Evangelia Randou (Bella).

The Greek film Attenberg invites comparisons to another Greek film – Dogtooth – made the year before this one in two ways. It directly makes us think of the earlier film by casting Giorgos Lanthimos, the director of Dogtooth, in a key role in this film. And it indirectly reminds us of Dogtooth, because at the heart of each film is a strange, perhaps perverse, familial relationship. The family at the heart of Dogtooth – run by a megalomaniac father who refuses to let his kids off of their large estate, only to be undone when the outside world starts encroaching upon them – was screwed up. But the father-daughter relationship in Attenberg is also clearly dysfunctional in many ways.

Attenberg opens with Marina (Ariane Labed) and her best friend Bella (Evangelia Randou) is a strange scene, where Marina admits she has never “done that” – which in this case means kissing. Bella indulges her friend, and the two kiss – but people hoping for an erotic moment will be disappointed – yes, the two beautiful women kiss, but it purposefully lacks any real eroticism. Marina has no idea what to do, and it shows.

You are right to wonder how a beautiful 23 year old woman like Marina has never kissed anyone before – but then we meet her father and things start to make more sense. The first thing we hear Marina ask her dad is “Do you ever think about me naked?” – and although he says of course not, he doesn’t strike the admonishing tone we would expect a father to answer that question to his grown daughter. Clearly these two have a close relationship – even far too close – but we don’t really know how far it goes. Marina talks about how she never thinks about sex – the thought disgusts her, some man pumping inside her like a piston. What 23 year old talks to her dad this way?

Whatever their relationship truly is, her father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) is now dying – and knows he needs to get his daughter out there in the real world. Although it is never mentioned in the film, I couldn’t help but think that Bella may have been hired by Spyros to be Marina’s friend. It is mentioned several times that Bella is a “loose” woman, and near the end, she thinks nothing of sleeping with Spyros at Marina’s request. Could she be a prostitute hired by Spyros to try and dissuade Marina’s attitudes about sex? Sometimes all Marina and Bella do is Monty Python style walks, which gives the film some strange, comedic moments.

The other major character is an Engineer, played by director Lanthimos. Encouraged by her father, and Bella, to try sex, Marina meets him, and the two slowly initiate sexual contact – slowly at first, and then getting more and more involved.

Throughout all of this, Marina is also dealing with the imminent death of her father – who has some strange (for Greeks) requests – like being cremated, which only recently became legal there, and is still a lengthy ordeal.

I was drawn in by Attenberg, without ever really loving it. Like Lanthimos’ follow-up to Dogtooth, Alps, Attenberg is a film that is fascinating in its weirdness, but is probably more interesting to talk about than it is to actually watch. But writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari is certainly a talent to watch for in the coming year. Along with Lanthimos, she may be the beginning of a New Wave of Greek filmmakers.

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