Multifaceted Athina Rachel Tsangari belongs to a unique group of talented artists who apparently enjoy working on each other’s film projects in different capacities. Her 2010 film “Attenberg” has an actor who was the director of the acclaimed “Dogtooth” (Giorgos Lanthimos) – a film in which Tsangari was the associate producer. She is also a writer, editor, and cinematographer, and has even appeared in front of the camera on occasion. Her film’s title refers to a character’s mispronunciation of the famed wildlife documentary filmmaker and presenter Sir David Attenborough.
Marina (Ariane Labed) is twenty three, living with her widowed dad Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) in a monotonous factory-township that he originally helped build. For Marina, peculiar circumstances have prevented her from maturing normally like other women of her age. She has never kissed a man, nor experienced the joy of sex, even if she is aware, in theory, of the sexual act itself and the mating rituals involved – she simply hasn’t felt the desire to meet and socialise with people at a sexual-level. Marina’s life-lessons have been gathered mainly in the process of watching wildlife documentaries, and the occasional advice and coaching from her only friend Bella (Evangelia Randou), who works at a nearby canteen and gets to meet men more often.
Spyros is also terminally ill, and a lot of the father and daughter’s time together is spent on visits to the clinic. Spyros is a worried man – he cares about Marina and dearly wishes she were better prepared for life after him. “I leave you in the hands of a new century without having taught you anything”, he bemoans. Marina, for her part, is determined to prove to her dad that she can survive on her own, and meet and have a boyfriend before his passing. She sets her eyes on a newly joined engineer whom she had been ferrying to and from work in her taxi, and they manage to start a tentative relationship. It will require patience, perseverance, and understanding on each other’s part before she could loose her virginity…
Tsangari’s film is an intense observation of a father and daughter’s ‘natural’ relationship, explored in their isolation and mutual self-confinement. Spyros hasn’t married since his wife died, and he is now bedridden, while Marina doesn’t want to move away from a setting and landscape she’s quite familiar with – she prefers the town’s reassuring uniformity over anything else. It is the private and deeply moving exchanges between the daughter and ailing father that propel their characters and the film.
We sense that Marina should after all be able to make it on her own – she is intelligent, inquisitive, and always keen to learn. This is made obvious through her love-hate relationship with Bella, a childhood friend, from whom she tries to sponge off as much ‘worldly’ advice as she can, including wet French-kissing lessons, to try out with the engineer later.
Marina and Bella’s coaching or favour-seeking sessions are often followed or preceded by their eccentric and amusing contests that could give Monty Python’s ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ a run for their money – the trained dancers that they both obviously are, Ariane Labed and Evangelia Randou add a new dimension to the characters through their physical theatre that only they could achieve.
The film, while being totally frank and open about everything under the sun, never sets out to provoke or shock its audience – the matter-of-fact narrative is allowed to play itself logically, and it doesn’t linger on aspects of the characters’ behaviour or idiosyncrasies for longer than necessary. The performance by all in the small cast is convincing, and the cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis is beautiful, alongside his preference for long takes with minimal camera movement. This is an original, moving, and thoroughly satisfying film that is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Ariane Labed, Evangelia Randou, and Giorgos Lanthimos
There are at least six scenes of nudity, and most of these feature the rather good-looking Ariane Labed. While all of these relate to Marina’s sexual exploration, there is only one that is effectively a sex scene, between Ms. Labed and Mr. Lanthimos.