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DIR: Athina Rachel Tsangari
What’s It All About?
You will understand, if and when you see this film, that this is not a question I’m really able to give you a proper answer to. It revolves around 23 year old Marina (Ariane Labed) and her awkward relationships with her best friend Bella (Evangelia Randou), her dying Father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), and an engineer (played by Dogtooth director and Attenberg producer Giorgos Lanthimos) she meets while at her job as a hire car driver. As for what it’s about though, and how to explain it… God knows.
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Because you haven’t been able to. So far Attenberg has only traveled outside its native Greece to play film festivals. Happily it has now been picked up for UK release by arthouse distributors Artificial Eye, who will release it in September. It will be coming out in the US, though I have no exact date for that.
Why Should You See It?
I think the key to understanding Attenberg (and bear in mind that this is only my take, because this is a film I think is open to a lot of interpretation) probably lies in its title. Attenberg is Bella’s mispronunciation of the name of Sir David Attenborough, whose documentaries Marina and her Father love. To me, watching Attenberg for a second time, it felt as though director Athina Rachel Tsangari was trying to take an Attenborough like approach to human subjects, to look at them from outside, study them in their environment, and marvel at their behaviour and the ways in which they are both similar to and different from the rest of us. It’s a strange aim, and a strange film, and some will find it alienating, but it does mean that Attenberg feels like no other movie I can think of.
The people in this film are all pretty odd (except perhaps the engineer, who often seems as puzzled as the rest of us are). Marina is a curious character; almost affectless, devoid of emotion, at least on the surface. There is actually an interesting link to Dogtooth here, as I could see Marina being a product of the environment depicted in that film, one of those kids trying to engage with society. There is an almost surreal detachment about her, as if she’s engaging with the human world as an abstraction. It’s a tough thing to play, but Ariane Labed does it brilliantly, letting us see, ever so occasionally, that Marina does feel, but perhaps doesn’t know how to express it (best shown in an incredibly awkward sex scene with the engineer, in which he begs her to stop describing everything she’s doing).
Marina, despite being 23, often seems like a child, and this is carried through in the way she behaves with Bella. The first scene shows Bella teaching Marina how to french kiss, while later scenes see them spitting out of a window, comparing bodies, and creating strange walks (one of which is lifted from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch), all pursuits you might expect from curious 12 year olds rather than these young women.
Writer/director Tsangari leaves us to make up our own minds as to how we interpret this strange relatinship, and the equally strange relationship between Marina and Spyros, at times they play children’s games (notably pretending to be animals after watching an Attenborough film), but Spyros also needs Marina to be an adult and to plan and execute the arrangements for after his death. For me it’s this thread that comes closest to explaining Marina, perhaps she’s regressing to cope with her Father’s imminent death. Whatever the explanation, watching these people is strangely compelling. Little happens, and nothing is designed to be easily relateable, but the strength of the performances, the striking formal composition of Tsangari’s spare visuals (favouring clean lines and drab, often industrial, environments) draw you into the film. It’s perhaps an experience more than it is the more traditional kind of storytelling you get in cinema, but that only served to make it stay in my head long after the closing credits.
This rendition of Francoise Hardy’s beautiful Tout les Garcons et le Filles sums up the style and tone of the film very well, it’s a striking sequence and, as a bonus, introduced me to Francoise Hardy.
How Can You See It?
Artificial Eye release it to UK cinemas on September 2nd. I’ve also been informed that Strand Releasing have picked up the film for US release, so look out for it over there in the future.
Next Week: The delayed review of KATALIN VARGA