Friday, 2 September 2022

Attenberg (2010)

This might be the strangest film I've seen this year! It's pure arthouse, or at least, trying really hard to be so. It's a Greek film, produced, written and directed by 
Athina Rachel Tsangari. I'm sure other people will know her for producing many films and shorts but the only link I could find for my reference was as producer of Before Midnight, the last of the Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke trilogy of romance dramas from 2013.

Here, we have a story about a young woman, Marina, whose voyage of self-discovery is reflected in the often-watched David Attenborough nature documentaries throughout the film by the cast. There seems to be some sort of parallel being drawn here between Marina's often bizarre behaviour, outlook, drives and desires and that of the wild animals. The name of the film is taken from a comic mispronunciation of his name during the film.

Marina has a close female friend, Bella, who frequently joins her in her discovery as they explore each other's ideas, outlooks, desires and sometimes, bodies. Bella is more sexually experienced than Marina, who is still a virgin. It's not any kind of cheap porn flick though and where the sex or nudity appears, it's a reflection of how that might happen in the wild with animals.

In amongst all this, Marina's dad is dying so she's flitting between home, work and hospital looking after him in his last days. Her dad is similarly clinical in his outlook, fixated on his cremation, and really doesn't like other members of the human race very much. He is hanging onto the embers of the family ties with Marina and the values which the film, I think, is saying are now going away in society. The relationship with her father is stretched too, where she enquires about his sexuality, I take to reflect that in the animal kingdom who you 'mate' with does not reflect who may or may not be close family. Not that there is anything of that kind here between them, apart from Marina 'fixing' her dad up with a last screw - with Bella!

Marina then bumps into a guy, who she clearly lines up for sexual 'use' (like in the animal kingdom) and all we see of him is when they're negotiating the stages of initial contact, fumblings and eventually mating. There is nothing beyond that for the pair and any closeness or emotional connection is reserved for the Marina/Bella friendship - but there's still not much of it around.

The pair share their deepest feelings, thought experiments and bizarre stomping routines, again, animal like. The film cuts, numerous times to show the pair marching up and down a courtyard walking strangely, cavorting, like some long-legged birds might (or John Cleese)! Then we cut to the characters playing tennis in the rain, for no apparent significance or meaning. All very odd - I'm sure I'm missing the point!

And I think that's what it's about! It's bleakly shot with much grey and barren, urban landscape, interiors of clinical settings in hospital and even the home settings come across as simple, basic and not cared for. Perhaps like a jungle or desert might be for animals. Within that framework, it's been very nicely shot - with arthouse tendencies, artistic sets and lingering visuals.

Ariane Labed (Before Midnight, The Souvenir, The Lobster) plays Marina outstandingly well, putting across the precise message of all the above to the viewer. She's happy to experiment clearly with her character and appears to be having a lot of arthouse fun! Evangelia Randou plays her friend Bella and executes that cold, a lot of the time. Clinical as the character dictates. The pair of them do a great job I think, hopefully enabling the audience to understand a bit of what actually is going on!

It's a quite bizarre film, which I did enjoy watching and trying to understand. It's clearly about those animalistic tendencies, how humans are really only animals (as if in the wild) but tamed by societal norms and apparent civilisation. Emotion, love and caring cast aside, the characters are largely free to explore and behave how they like, maybe reflecting what we'd all like to do, if freed up.

It's worth watching if you get the chance - the kind of film that would pop up on Channel 4 or Mubi, but also now via streaming services to rent. Give it a go and see what you make of it!

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