Friday, 2 September 2011

Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2010) Review

Touching from a distance... the world of Attenberg (2010) proves a cold, disquieting place...

In 2005 Greek writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari formed Haos, the Athens-based production office which in 2009 birthed Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos), an incendiary drama about language, politics and planets; human or otherwise. Attenberg is Tsangari's second feature as director, and it (sort of) tells the story of 23-year-old Marina (Ariane Labed), who seems to have been raised in hermetic isolation by her architect father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis). He looks upon the contemporary world with fear and disdain, referring to the twentieth century as "overrated." The landscape Marina now finds herself in feels somewhat like a blown-up scale model; the vision of a listless industrial town not yet fully realised, but still housing a form of life. Into Marina's life comes Bella (Evangelia Randou), a sexually advanced girl of similar age. In the opening scene they kiss with tongues. "It feels like a slug" declares a repelled Marina. Also in-tune with Dogtooth, Attenberg's aesthetic is distanced - almost sterilized - and shot through with a cold, indifferent lens. Blank and undefined spaces expand beyond the characters, appearing almost alien in nature. Lanthimos' film subtly revealed a company named KEOPE, who specialize in construction, housing and land development. Perhaps these worlds are connected? Perhaps the factory estates depicted in each film are in fact the same? Work doesn't seem to be moving very fast, which suggests a reflection on Greece's current economic climate.

I'm sorry to keep making comparison with Dogtooth (I know Tsangari doesn't like it) but there are so many ways in which the worlds feel connected that they're impossible to take apart. For example: an affectation toward and mispronunciation of language, disturbingly un-erotic sexual experimentation, a borderline incestuous father/daughter relationship, and finally a comment on species (Spyros at one point uses the phrase "we mammals", seemingly understanding humans and animals to be as one). Both films come from Haos. They share Thimios Bakatakis as cinematographer, and the engineer with whom Marina falls into bed with is played by Lanthimos. She doesn't love him, and I suspect she wouldn't know how to. It's possible that Marina is autistic, but nothing so specific is acknowledged in the screenplay. It seems certain that she has some kind of learning disability, and lives by instinct rather than intelligence. It also seems possible that she could have come from a home like the one in Dogtooth, where children are trained like dogs. Overall the film struck an odd note with me, somewhere between fascination and tedium. I'll say this: it's entirely inaccessible, but wholly compelling, and one of the most strikingly confident visions the cinema has produced in years.

The truth is, I don't really know what to think of Attenberg yet. I'm sure I like it more for having seen Dogtooth, and much of my fascination with Tsangari's film has arisen out of comparison with that one. I realize now how much I appreciate the precision of Lanthimos' vision, and the fact that his film never leaves Father's house (save for some obscured driving scenes and distanced shots of the factory). I think Attenberg's scope sometimes allows it to lose focus, and that its structure probably shouldn't allow for the amount of meandering Tsangari indulges in. I question her sincerity. But I think she has big plans for Haos, and even if it doesn't now, Attenberg will make sense in time. That time will be marked by vast colourless spaces, extending for miles beyond characters who are unshackled from the scholarly, sexual and moral principles of Earth. It's a New Wave alright, and I can't wait to see it develop...

1 comment:

  1. I watched this film today and gave up trying to write a review for it. (To give you some sort of idea, I meandered along the path that compared Attenburg/Dogtooth to Abba/five years of other Eurovision copycats, which didn't work out well at all.)
    I've yet to find a review that doesn't compare the two, and were I to actually finish mine it wouldn't break the trend. To have seen oddball Greek cinema once was interesting; to see it twice was one too many. I didn't like this film at all, but got the nagging feeling that I may well have done had I not seen D*****th.