DIRECTED BY: Athina Rachel Tsangari
FEATURING: Ariane Labed, Evangelia Randou, Vangelis Mourikis, Giorgos Lanthimos
PLOT: A strange young woman tries to cope with her father’s impending death and her disgust
at human sexuality with the help of her equally odd but extremely promiscuous best friend.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because you can use the first scene, which begins with the least erotic lesbian kiss ever put on screen and ends with the two girls dropping on all fours and hissing at each other like cats in heat, to clear any unwanted squares out of the room.
COMMENTS: “If ever there was a possibility of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature’s world, it must be with the gorilla,” proclaims Sir David Attenborough from the TV screen—but that’s only because he never met Marina. The conceit in this study of the ineffable otherness of others is that we watch Marina and her friend Bella as if we’re watching a nature documentary about creatures whose rituals we can only dimly grasp, but not entirely understand. To remind us of that fact, the pair will break into weird dances of their own invention, or suddenly slip into animalistic hissing, spitting, and primal chest pounding. Yet, despite these alienating narrative techniques, we still manage to sympathize with strange Marina, thanks to Ariane Labed’s affectingly melancholy performance and confident direction which manages to keep the uncomfortably absurd from sliding into the merely laughable (as many commentators have pointed out, the girls’ dances are reminiscent of outtakes from Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch, only with more crotch-grabbing). Even when the movie avoids experimentation and plays it straight, Marina is one odd bird. She believes herself to be asexual but forces herself to practice French kissing with her best friend, and eventually to seduce a visiting engineer (played by Dogtooth director Lanthimos). The resulting sex scenes are so painfully awkward they make losing your virginity on prom night a model of erotic smoothness by comparison. Marina’s deepest relationship is with her cancer-stricken father. There’s a naturalness and comfortableness to their conversations; it comes across that she’s been in the habit of confessing her bizarre thoughts—like the fact that she imagines her father naked, but without a penis—to him for years, and he’s been in the habit of gently steering her opinions into more conventional channels. When he dies, who will constrain her deranged imagination? If normality and integration into society is the goal for Marina, however, then her only friend Bella is a bad influence, encouraging her in her apparent dream of becoming an avant-garde choreographer for Martians. Bella’s very existence, and her devotion to Marina, is something of a mystery in Attenberg. She is Marina’s mirror image, reversed along the sexuality axis: where Marina imagines fathers without penises, Bella dreams of a forest of phalluses, then worries that “seeing genitals in your sleep is a bad omen.” Attenberg is at its best when it’s spying on these intriguing creatures and their shocking individuality. In those few occasions where it widens its lens to suggest a wider sociopolitical metaphor, as when the dying father pontificates about the death of the twentieth century, Greece’s future, and “petit-bourgeois hysteria,” we politely indulge the discourse as we would the observations of any dying man who’s being used as a director’s mouthpiece, but secretly wish Marina and Bella would get back to dancing like circus monkeys hopped up on fermented bananas. Although “normal” movie audiences will find the casual, naturalistic surrealism of Attenberg insufferable, around here we see it as a case where an infusion of welcome weirdness spices up what otherwise might have been a dreary drama about a disaffected daughter and her dying dad.
First with Dogtooth, and now with Attenberg, it appears that the economic and social crisis in Greece has put national filmmakers in a weird mood; or, at least, that’s what The Guardian believes. Regardless, Greek drama hasn’t achieved this level of weirdness since they were making up stories about guys ripping out their eyes because they accidentally had sex with their moms.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…each commonplace action has some weird twist… Part of the film’s success comes from Labed’s performance as Marina, who infuses all that weirdness with a barely there vulnerability.”–Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by Gnosos, who described it as “another [G]reek weird movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)