Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Attenberg Grabs More Indie Attention

Although Attenberg struggles to hold the attention of many American moviegoers, the second full-length film from Athina Rachel Tsangari as a writer/director is an adequately quirky character expose and indie film from Greece. The coming-of-age-too-late tale of 23-year-old Marina is cautionary in under-the-surface sadness and captivating in its exploration of ackward sexuality and human intimacy.

Outside of her widowed father and one friend, Marina has never had to relate to other people. And although her father handles his own mortality with quiet acceptance, it quickly becomes apparent that his impending death will leave an emptiness in her life.

The pair of them make a perfect platonic duo who communicate effortlessly, easily building on each other's thoughts and comfortable enough to play word association games and mimic wild animals as they appear on nature shows. In short, they are buddies. And he is dying.

Marina isn't the only one who comes of age too late. 

Although some critics believe the film to be pretentious at times, it's difficult not to be misconstrued as such. The entire film can be seen as an allegory. Marina isn't the only one who has remained innocent.

As her father (Vangelis Mourikis) points out, Greece is a country that has moved from sheep pens to bulldozers. It skipped the Industrial Age much like his daughter missed out on her own experimental, explorative, and formidable teen years.

In one sense, he laments that they thought they were ushering in a small revolution. But this rapid ascent also means that the town lacks uniformity, something he will never see complete. Marina is much the same. She is an adult, one who isn't naive but is grossly inexperienced.

In taking on Marina, Ariane Labed delivers a purposefully deadpan and memorable debut, allowing only well-timed glints of wit, wisdom, or anguish to escape from her eyes or in a turn of her mouth. Later, she hints at transformation as she begins to develop her first male relationship outside of her father.

The relationship carousel is caustic as life plays out.

A random meeting with a visiting engineer (Giorgos Lanthimos) and the chance discovery that they both like the 1970s electronic protopunk band Suicide is her first relationship with a man beyond her father. The few moments they have on the screen together are memorable, largely because Lanthimos remains unassuming, gentle, and tender toward her.

Her relationship with her friend, Bella (Evangelia Randou), is decidedly different too. It frequently comes off as an obligatory arrangement between long-time friends who treat each other like family (and take each other for granted). Their relationship is entrenched and also antagonistic.

Other than their quirky but still straight-faced play sessions mimicking each other (different, but not dissimilar to what Marina and her father do), most of it is confined to negotiations. At the open of the film, Bella teaches Marina how French kiss. Later in the film, Marina solicits Bella to sleep with her father.

A few graphs about director Athina Rachel Tsangari. 

This is the first movie that Tsangari, who attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and the University of Texas at Austin, has made in Greece. At the onset, Tsangari wasn't sure she could make a film in Greece after living in America for so long. But this might have indadvertedly helped her write and construct Attenberg, given Marina doesn't belong in her environment.

Instead of belonging to society, she identifies with belonging more to her father (something Tasangari had said is more common in developing countries but taboo in Greece). It's not the only cultural difference Tasangari worked into the film. Marina also has trepidation about intimacy and sexuality, something American women shed on social networks. And Spyros' wish to be cremated is more impacting in Greece, where it is forbidden.

Although Attenberg is only her second feature as a director, Tsangari has ample experience in the field. She has several production credits with Yorgos Lanthimos and others. She has also produced several shorts. Her first experience working in film was in Slacker (1991) by Richard Linklater.

Attenberg By Athina Rachel Tsangari Unshackles 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While Attenberg isn't necessarily a groundbreaking independent, it does demonstrate her mettle as a writer and director while showcasing some promising actors and actresses. It is also a compelling symbol of the emerging film scene in Greece and may help move European films from their generally confined genres. Tsangari prefers to blend them.

If the film fell short of any American expectations, it's likely because it came off too much like a comedy in the trailer and even in most of the reviews. Even the clip above makes it comes across more edgy than it is, even if it is a quirky drama (as opposed to a melodrama).

Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangari can be ordered from Barnes & Noble or the film can be rented from iTunes. You can also find Attenberg on Amazon. The film is also unrated.
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