Film: Attenberg

Quirky Greek dramedy Attenberg (2010) has all the earmarks of a Yorgos Lanthimos film: weirdly affected performances, patient composition, edgy and philosophical subject matter. It even has Lanthimos himself, in an acting role. But Attenberg is the brainchild of writer-director Athina Rachel Tsangari, suggesting the existence of a burgeoning school of interesting, esoteric indie film coming out of Greece.

Attenberg is a late-bloomer coming-of-age story about a young woman named Marina (Ariane Labed), who lives a simple, quiet life in a seaside factory town. Marina has a job, and a promiscuous best friend named Bella (Evangelia Randou), but not much else, and is clearly struggling to find herself in the face of her own disinterest in sex—and other people in general. She does have a close relationship with her father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), an architect currently engaged in a protracted struggle with cancer. As Spyros’ condition worsens, the naive, fearful Marina develops a stilted connection with a visiting engineer (Lanthimos), and becomes more adventurous and experimental in her behavior as she copes with the increasingly imminent loss of her father.

It’s easy to imagine viewers growing quickly impatient with Attenberg, a slice-of-life character study that builds its poignant message in a cumulative way, stitching together quiet, thoughtful scenes. Tsangari gives the film a deliberate, careful composition, and there’s a stately beauty it, as Marina finally struggles to start her life, prompted by her father’s slow demise. There are moments of odd humor, but the overall tone is dark and elegiac, which makes for a powerful, lingering impression. It’s not conventionally satisfying, but definitely interesting. You can tell Tsangari and Lanthimos share a directorial sensibility; like Lanthimos’ early work (Dogtooth, Alps), Attenberg is a subtle and uniquely fascinating watch.

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