Attenberg begins with a kiss, sloppy and in-affectionate as tongues wriggle in a bout of saliva wrestling. The tongues belong to best friends Marina (Ariane Labed) and Bella (Evangelia Randou); Bella is teaching her virgin BFF Marina the ways of swapping spit.
Kissing is not all they do together. They walk in sequenced choreography. They muse about “prick trees”. They ponder the hypnotic sound of nature documentarian David Attenborough’s name, pronounced here as “Attenberg” (hence the film’s title). They are also a few cucumbers shy of a Greek salad.
Essentially, Attenberg is a coming of age story, told in a skewered bent and with a much older subject in 23-year-old Marina. A sexually stunted young woman, Marina explores the never been region of sexual experience, while arranging the upcoming funeral of her cancer stricken father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis).
It is the second feature film from Greek-American director Athina Rachel Tsangari (The Slow Business of Going), and it relies wholly on its art-house weirdness to try and see it through. Eccentricity and awkwardness are its main currency, yet it is not enough to distract from the fact that Attenberg is as emotionally limited as its protagonist.
Tsangari does the worst thing possible, and presents to us a character that is…what exactly? Confused would be the obvious word, but this world which Marina inhabits encourages such feelings through its off the wall behaviour, where one minute spitting outside of a window leads to mimicry of animals, and then back to the sequenced marching routines mentioned earlier.
Marina’s sexual discovery is the closest Attenberg comes in achieving some sort of humanity amongst all of the alien behaviour. A relationship is established with an out of town engineer (Giorgis Lanthimos director of Greek indie, Dogtooth), yet even then the act of sex is purely designated to the physical without an ounce of the emotional.
What does work is Tsangari’s setting of the film amidst the industrial sector of a small Greek village. Here she presents her country in a different type of ruins, with subtle hints to their recent economic struggles.
Yet Attenberg feels less like a movie, and more a feature length student film experiment. Trangari has created a somewhat intriguing film, but one which is also pointless and shallow.
Attenberg is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on June 9th and 10th. Athina Rachel Tsangari will take part in a Q&A after the June 10th screening.
Images provided by SFF