Directed by: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Starring: Ariane Labed, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Attenberg is a coming of age story. It’s just not a fun, heartwarming, coming of age story where the shedding of adolescent awkwardness and insecurity are portrayed though a rosy prism and topped off with an optimistic and uplifting ending. No, Attengberg is a coming of age story where the awkwardness and insecurity’s of adolescence are viewed through a pair of binoculars like a naturalist studying a troop of gorillas. While there may be moments of bittersweet familiarity in the otherwise alien behavior of the troop it’s all rather hopeless because between the poachers, warlords and loss of habitat the troop is doomed anyway.
The opening scene sets the tone for the entire movie. Attenberg opens to two attractive young woman standing in front of a simple white wall sticking there tongues in each other’s mouth. After a bit of tongue waggling we learn that the more sexually experienced Bella, played by Evangellia Randou, is not so much trying to teach the completely inexperienced Marina, portrayed by Ariane Labed, how to kiss as just get her used to the concept. It doesn’t work; Marina proclaims the act vile and disgusting and resists Bella’s attempts to continue the exercise. Just when it looks like things might get ugly the two drop to the ground and imitate a couple of cats stalking and pouncing at each other with the ease and familiarity of two people continuing a game began many years before.
That pretty much sums up Marina’s life in the small seaside mining town she calls home. We eventually learn that she is twenty three and lives at home with her father Spyros, played by Yorgos Lanthimos. Spyros is an architect and has provided Marina with a comfortable middle class upbringing. The two live in a comfortable home marred only by the absence of Marina’s mother who one way or another left the picture many years before. And even those wounds are old enough that if not completely healed they aren’t a constant ache. This if not idyllic, comfortable, familiar, existence is coming to an end. Spyros is dying.
Even with Spyros’s illness and ultimate death providing the framework for the plot of the film the movie is not about loss or grief, it’s about change. Marina’s life is all old games and inside jokes, whether it’s word games with her father or silly dances with Bella. She’s so far into a rut that she can’t see out of it. But that’s fine with her, at least she knows where to put her next footstep. The death of her father though will wash the ruts out denying her the easy path that she’s accustomed to. Attenberg explores how Marina tries to deal with this fore knowledge of change. It examines her experimenting with new social interactions with the cold impartiality of a scientist examining her mice.
The movie gets its name from the way Bella mispronounces Sir David Attenborough, a naturalist. Marina is a fan of Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries, often watching them with her father. Attenborough takes a much more passionate and intimate portrait of his subjects than Tsangari does of her subjects in Attenberg. The camera is always putting distance between you and Marina, either through movement or a wide angle shot or shaded and dreary lighting. The overcast days give every exterior scene a muted color palate and many interior scenes are devoid or spare of color. And it’s not just the imagery, while there is a bit of drop music here and there the soundtrack of the Attenberg is ambient noise. There is rarely a scene where the background noise of life is not present whether it’s the roar of a ventilation system or the highway drone of a car’s interior, it’s all there just like it is in real life. You can almost imagine Tsangari directing Attenberg in a lab coat. This approach definitely makes for a striking and memorable film, but at the same time it also makes Attenberg a touching, moving and thought provoking experience as well. There is no distortion or noise between you and the characters. Emotions aren’t compressed and limited to make the story fit a formula. Of course if the script or acting where off in any way this lack of artifice would just showcase the problems or limitations of the story or the acting. That is not a problem Attenberg has to worry about.
The Widescreen video looked great. The film has a lot of shadows and they flow perfectly from slightly darker to black naturally like they should with a good amount of detail. I never noticed any moiré or aliasing or any other compression artifacts.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in Greek with English subtitles. The audio is fantastic. It needs to be, sound is a very big part of Attenberg. I can’t honestly say that the background noise never stepped on the dialog as I wouldn’t have noticed, but the dialog and the ambient sound never got in each other’s way. They were perfectly mixed. I never noticed any distortion or any other flaws with the audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Cinegeek received the DVD minus the clam shell for review so I can’t comment on the DVD case but the disc itself is attractive enough. Other than the original trailer for Attenberg the only other extras are some interesting trailers of other upcoming Strand Releasing releases.
Overall (not an average): 9/10
Attenberg was one of the films I was looking forward to seeing this year at the Nashville Film Festival back in April. The main reason being that it was Greek and one of the actors and co-producers Yorgos Lanthimos directed one of my favorite films from last year’s festival Dogtooth. Anyway I did not get to see Attenberg at the festival so I was glad to get it for review. And even happier after I had watched it this is one of the best movies I have seen so far this year.
The Movie: 9/10
The Video: 9/10
The Audio: 8/10
The Packaging and Extras: 3/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10