Okay, so I may have seen the best film I have ever seen in my life tonight at MOMA's New Director's Series. Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Attenberg", truly knocked me out, partly due to the sublime performance of dancer/non-actor, Ariane Labed, who plays Marina, the protagonist, and partly due to Tsangari's astute layering of elements in this risky coming of age story that transverses taboo love with the father and Marina's helpless rage at watching him die, all written and directed through intense dialogue, played without sentiment or over-emotion. Maybe, I saw some glimpses of work like this in Lucretia Martel's "Holy Girl", Ming-liang Tsai's "I Don't Want To Sleep Alone", Chantal Ackermann's "Je Tu Il Elle", but nothing as accessible, or a work that integrates the strange bedfellows of narrative, performance art/dance, and the nature documentary, as purely as "Attenberg". I'm not sure if anyone's even ever attempted it, but I'm glad Tsangari did. Other reviews say this film was too weird for weird's sake, but I don't agree. The courage to talk baout some of the topics to a dying father were conversations I could have only imagined ever having had with my own dying parent. Or the taboo of unconsummated father daughter love. Or how you really feel about your best girlfriend. Those conversations were refreshingly honest, yet lacking in reactivity of melodrama.
The human as species is up for grabs here as Marina and her best friend, Bella (Evangelia Randou), tongue kiss like two slugs on a banana, or create synchronized, bird-like mating dances, dressed in matching frocks, that insinuate the biology of sex, the simultaneity, the inability to individualize, the mechanism, leaving behind any source cultural moralistic judgment. That's the world which I feel Tsangari is leaving for us cowards. She brutally, unapologetically, has these gorgeous actresses spitting like monkeys and enjoying it. There is tender dissection and fun poking, too, the humor is dry in this Greek filmmaker's hommage to her crumbling country. Tsangari, who returned to Greece after decades away, studied in Austin, Texas, then started a film festival and was a lecturer in the US. After the show at MOMA last night, she said the film is like a conversation with the father, her father country, Greece, the patriarchy, the lover, Sir David Attenborough, for whom the film references, and his child-like, children Gorillas. The children, Marina and Bella, really are the gorilla's. Spyros, Marina's father (as played by Greek actor, Vangelis Mourikis) teaches his daughter excellent primate calls and squats from his hospice bed rest, while Bella and Marina ape apes and birds alike. Marina's symbolic and literal disappointment in the dying father's imperfections, plus the rage and incomprehensible helplessness of losing a parent too early to forces beyond individual control (something I've experienced first hand), and literally leaving her to figure it all out herself, is the kind of conversation Tsangari has with her "father", the kind of conversation I'd like to have with my fatehr (both biological and patriarchal) and ultimately reaches truly touching human magnitude of tactile conversation, even in the lengths the film seems to take in trying to get away from the very core of sentiment.
Also interesting, is Tsangari's elements being truly removed from the Hollywood model of functioning narrative. The filmmaker said her lead did not speak Greek, didn't even start to learn until one month before shooting, and the town they shot in was a French mining town. Funding was pulled in the middle of shooting as the country of Greece fell apart around them, mimicking the reality of the filmmaker's piece of the dying father, then lastly, and best of all, the success, as Tsangari's film was picked up by ______ yesterday, and even as she flew in for the screening, was to receive news that her crew, who so doggedly stayed to finish the shoot, would be getting their paycheck.
Film Screenings & Events
2010. USA. Kate Barker-Froyland. 11 min.
2010. Greece. Athina Rachel Tsangari. 95 min.
Thursday, March 31, 2011, 6:00 p.m.
Theater 1 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 1), T1
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2010. USA. Directed by Kate Barker-Froyland. 11 min.
2010. Greece. Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. Tsangari’s Attenberg is a fun melding of (new) Nouvelle Vague, musical, melodrama, and nature documentary, symbolically visualizing a change of generation and perspective as a father and daughter gently negotiate their individual rites of passage. The film follows a visionary architect who has come home to die in the vanishing industrial town that is his legacy to his daughter. Meanwhile, his daughter (played by Ariane Labed, in a performance that garnered her the Best Actress award at The Venice Film Festival) is exploring the mysteries of kissing with her girlfriend and the beyond with a visiting engineer. 95 mi