Although Attenberg is not quite as memorable as Dogtooth, the film is still commendable for what it tried to achieve, even if it was not completely successful.
Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg does not shy away from showing absurd situations in unorthodox environments, something that has become a staple in the last few years of Greek cinema. Attenberg is a film that explores mankind’s primal desires (sex) and unavoidable extermination of life (death). Though the film may not be completely satisfying and does not deliver the same impact as a film like Dogtooth did; Attenberg is daring, bold and ambitious, qualities that many films only strive to achieve.
Attenberg sets the tone of the film right from opening scene when Marina (Ariane Labed) and Bella (Evangelia Randou) open-mouth French kiss, which will likely rank up there in the most awkward on screen kiss you have ever witnessed. The reasoning behind the exchange is that Bella is teaching her sexually inexperienced best friend how to kiss properly. Marina finds this act to be disgusting and therefore gives up on trying to learn. After Bella explains to Marina that she needs to create more saliva or it will not work, the result is the two friends spitting on each other immediately followed by mimicking wild cats hissing at each other. This opening scene serves as a prelude as to what to expect for the rest of the film.
Marina’s sudden interest in sex seems a consequence of her father’s recent poor health. Her dying father is her only other companion in life aside from Bella. The relationship they share is a particularly odd one because at times the conversations they have are on the very edge of being taboo, even bringing up what exactly is considered socially taboo in conversation. Perhaps because her mother had passed away several years ago is the reason that Marina has developed into a daddy’s girl. It is not explicitly clear as to why she has a sudden desire to explore her sexuality but it is likely due to her trying to fill the void of companionship when her father is gone. But what is most alarming about Marina is her repression to physical contact that leaves her questioning herself about the possibility of being asexual.
The purpose behind Attenberg is to examine the human species much like how nature shows examine animals. This is made very obvious when characters throughout the film are shown mimicking the sounds and movements of animals that they have seen from these shows. The film even receives its title from a play on the legendary nature documentary narrator Sir David Attenborough’s last name.
Unfortunately, Attenberg sounds a lot more interesting than the film actually ends up being. The film did serve as a fascinating character study of the human species at times, but the film did not quite live up to its full potential all said and done. There is no question that Attenberg was heavily influenced by Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (Lanthimos even plays an acting role in the film), and the two do share a common overall theme of effects of social isolation and over-protective parenting. Although Attenberg is not quite as memorable as Dogtooth, the film is still commendable for what it tried to achieve, even if it was not completely successful.