Short Takes: Attenberg
(Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece, 2010)
Written by Nicolas Rapold
The affecting festival hit from Athina Rachel Tsangari about a young woman coming to terms with her father’s terminal illness is leavened with the playful perversity that has informed the puzzling work of Greek colleague Yorgos Lanthimos. As in Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, minus the urge to shock and with the addition of a sense of emotional engagement, Tsangari centers her film on an unusually naive main character. Sheltered, lanky Marina (Ariane Lebed) has never been kissed and spends her time with her father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) and friend Bella (Evangelina Randou), in a desolate town.
Rather than hitching things to a plot, Tsangari lets these two relationships play out in casual episodes—the prickly but devoted friendship between Marina and Bella, and the playfulness and candor shared by Marina and her father. Spyros’s illness is charted out from his daughter’s perspective (all the way through to the indignities of hospital bills), but death’s pall is offset by the games that unexpectedly punctuate the movie. The two friends do starkly staged Monty Python silly walks in matching dresses, while Marina and father imitate the animal rituals they watch in the nature docs of Richard Attenborough (whence, bastardized, the film’s title).
These sequences smack of improv theater exercises, as if actors and director have built out the scenes from a single gesture or some arbitrary linguistic rule. But for all the eccentricity, the film feels unexpectedly personal in addressing experiences everyone goes through at some point in their lives.