Attenberg is a new Greek film from director Athina Rachel Tsangari, having to do with sex and death. The film has a memorably dry and quirky sense of humor. But “humor” is too strong a word. Maybe there’s a Greek word for “absurdist style” that fits.
Marina (Ariane Labed) is 23, yet she behaves as though she grew up in the Dogtooth household ( Dogtooth being another recent Greek film — one in which overprotective parents imprison their children and lie to them about the facts of life). Marina has never had sex, nor ever even kissed a boy.
The story of her sexual awakening — and it’s strange to even call it that because Marina is so like a child — is entwined with the story of her father’s fatal illness. He is an atheist and wants to be cremated, but Greece’s laws don’t permit it, so he asks Marina to arrange it anyway, which involves international flights, all of which will have to happen after he is no longer there to help, obviously. Meanwhile, she feels it is her duty as an adult to begin dating men and learning about sex.
“Attenberg” is Marina and Bella’s pronunciation of “Attenborough,” as in Sir David, the British nature documentarian. What Marina and Bella know about sex comes largely from watching nature documentaries, including a few doozies that don’t exist — including documentaries on penis trees.
The scenes of the dramatic arc are intercut with interludes of its two female protagonists, Marina and Bella (Evangelia Randou), walking, as dancers, toward the camera. Sometimes they are birds, others they are friends, other times, lovers, each silly walk a non-literal comment on the action that has gone before.
Thos quirky dance interludes are what I noticed first and what I remember most. Unfortunately, what I remember about them, is that they don’t quite work. They feel forced, and they overshadow the story. My first thought was that they compensated for a lack of sincerity in the story of the naïve protagonist. But as the film progressed and Marina’s character deepened from caricature into reality, her story ended up becoming more genuine and moving. It didn’t need the interludes, which looked stranger and stranger.
Still, Attenberg has an unmistakeable sense of style. It looks artificial, yet actually has a warm heart at its core. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.