One of the animals – Attenberg review

AttenbergStarring Ariane Labed, Vangelis Mourikis, and Giorgos Lanthimos. Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. Rated MA. By Hilary Simmons.

Attenberg is now available on DVD.

Attenberg will appeal to you if you like architecture, animal documentaries, and awkwardly choreographed dance sequences. The title comes from the wildlife films of Sir David Attenborough – who surely by now deserves an adjective, like Attenboroughian, in recognition of his international reach – and which Marina (Ariane Labed) admires a little bit too much. She lives with her terminally ill father, Spiros (Vangelis Mourikis), in an industrial seaside town and receives a sensual education from her experienced bisexual friend Bella. However, she’s far more interested in the courtship rituals and mating acts of animals than those of her fellow homo sapiens.

So she does animal imitations, live-narrates her lovemaking, and emulates the gorillas and other animals she sees on television at any given opportunity. Clearly writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari intends to make a point about nature, nurture and biological exigency. Unfortunately, the end result is a minimalist, manifestly unfunny film that mounts a convincing argument against the Greek “Weird Wave” of cinema.

Social context is important in dealing with its anthropological bizarreness. Marina’s antsy father (by far the most interesting character in the film) glibly remarks that the architecture project he’s part of “might as well be constructing ruins.” He is a cynical anti-modernist modernist who is justifiably anxious about leaving his socially ignorant daughter to fend for herself in a toxic, not-quite-post-industrial environment. How will she evolve? The long tracking shots across the exterior of the town’s massive factory suggest that her self-willed social seclusion may instead beget a new kind of strangely soulless atheist-humanist species.

The intense economic focus and emotional austerity of the movie means the awkward love affair between Marina and a nameless engineer (Dogtooth director Giorgos Lanthimos) brings some much needed humanity and humour to the story (and possibly symbolises an propitious reconciliation between 21th century Greece and its cynical citizens) but it’s ultimately not enough. Films should have an entertaining surface, and Marina’s deadpan stylization and animal sounds don’t achieve much other than an awkward, unpleasant, viewing experience. Just like the financial crisis in Greece,Attenberg is horrible to watch unfold, and hard to understand.


Attenberg is now available on DVD.

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