Friday, September 24, 2010


Attenberg opens with a failed kiss lesson and ends on a muddy and desolate construction site where the two woman of the first scene drive off in separate vehicles. In between we are treated to a bleak emotional and physical landscape that is both fascinating and depressing.

Attenberg was written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari and was the sole Greek entry at the Toronto International Film Festival that wrapped up last week.

The film takes its title from a mispronunciation by one of the characters of the name Attenborough and refers to the Sir David Attenborough.

A key to understanding the film is his statement that “there is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know.” He adds that if it were possible to escape the human condition and live in another creature’s world, he would choose to be with the gorilla.

We see Sir David briefly in the movie and the characters play act as animals a number of times. Starting from the first scene where Bella (Evangelia Randou) is trying to teach Marina (Ariane Labed) how to kiss and the lesson does not succeed, the two women crouch down and pretend to be fighting animals, perhaps gorillas.

The unsuccessful kiss sets the stage for the rest of the film where sexual and emotional contact will be seen from a number of angles and will prove to be an utter failure. Marina has sex with the Engineer (Yorgos Lanthimos) after some unsuccessful attempts but there is no evidence of any passion, even life. Marina’s father Sypros (Vangelis Mourikis) is an architect in a bleak town where the houses are small boxes, a waste land where there is no evidence of life. He is a widower who is emotionally and sexually dead. There does seem to be genuine affection between Marina and her father but even that cannot find genuine human expression.

We see Spyros in his house and in the hospital where he is dying. He is arranging his affairs including, most importantly it seems, his cremation and the scattering of his ashes at sea.

The two women are seen marching in unison down a path several times, mechanically, with some variation in the steps but nothing more. There are scenes on the beach, in several bedrooms, in the hospital and on the road but all provide the cumulative impression of emotional sterility on a background of physical barrenness. The sea and the landscape can all be from a post apocalyptic world. There are very few, if any, signs of life. The streets and the corridors are all empty; the sky is overcast and even the sea is lifeless.

Labed has a steady gaze as she interacts with Bella, the engineer and her father. It is a penetrating look, perhaps resembling a gorilla’s, which is searching for meaning and mutual understanding or just physical contact. It is a gaze of innocence, mystery and wonder that adds up to a marvelous performance. Not surprisingly, Labed won the Best Actress award at this year’s Venice Film festival.

The apparently more gregarious Bella of Randou is just as unsuccessful achieving contact. Spyros, the architect, the builder, the designer, lives in a dead city where he too is dying. Fine performances by Randou and Mourikis.

Tsangari is best remembered if not actually known for her work at the 2004 Athens Olympics where she was the projections designer and video director for the opening ceremony. She has also earned the dubious distinction of having her film The Slow Business of Going voted as one of the best undistributed films in 2002.

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