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November 08, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - Attenberg


Athina Rachel Tsangari - 2010
Strand Releasing 35mm film

The title of the film comes from one of the young Greek woman's mispronunciation of the name Attenborough. At various points in the film, Marina, often with her dying father, watches one of David Attenborough's nature documentaries. The apparent assuredness and ease of animal family relationships and courtship rituals is contrasted with the awkwardness of the humans.

There are only four characters, and whatever relationship they have with each other seems to be a tentative and not wholly successful rebellion against total isolation. The best of these relationships, between Marina and Bella, is notable for the goofy duets, synchronized walking, or to put it in the widest possible terms, dances with exaggerated steps and gestures. While the relationship between the two is more obviously idiosyncratic, it might also be considered, like many "real" relationships, based on shared rituals and nothing more then that, not unlike friendships that are based primarily on shared religious observances or meeting at a bar or cafe. Marina also experiences her first sexual relationship with an unnamed man, a visiting engineer, and deals with the death of her father. When not watching television with her father, there dialogue is also marked by misunderstandings, whereas the two bond best playing word games and imitating gorillas.

Athina Rachel Tsangari served as an Associate Producer on Dogtooth, while Attenberg is her second feature as writer and director. I can't jump to any conclusions, but with the recent resurgence of Greek cinema as a global entity, Tsangari is certainly part of that movement. There are several moments of deadpan humor, especially in the scenes between Marina and Bella. There is also some seriousness in the scenes of Marina and her father, Spyros, discussing is imminent death. At one point, Spyros talks of how Greece made the leap from an agrarian society to a modern society without having experienced industrialism. Spyros also makes clear that in death he does not want his body to become food for worms. There is a casualness to these conversations that disguises the underlying theme of the connections, and disconnections, with the natural world.

The natural and the unnatural comes to mind when Bella attempts to teach Marina about kissing. In spite of her expressed curiosity regarding the act of French kissing, Marina describes having Bella's tongue as being like a slug. Contrasting the death of Spyros is the death of the town where the film takes place, a factory town where the factory is closed and most of the population is gone. At one point, the camera pans over the residences, blocks of identical white houses. That white is a symbolic color of virginity and death is fitting for this film. The Athens born, New York and Austin educated filmmaker, Tsangari, has described herself as a nomad. Just as Attenberg is a film that travels through uncomfortable spaces between people, I suspect that Tsangari's future films will cross a variety of geographical and personal boundaries.

(Viewed as a DVD screener)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 8, 2011 08:22 AM