Director Athina Rachel Tsangari captures her audience the second the screen changes from black to white. Attenberg opens with a white wall and a close-up of two women kissing. The minute you feel like you have had enough of watching these women make-out, one of them, Marina (Ariane Labed), pulls away and admits that she is a virgin. Her best friend, Bella (Evangelia Randou), teaches her how to kiss. This makes an intriguing start.
Marina is a 23-year-old dealing with a major identity crisis that is very relatable yet extremely odd. Marina lives in a small, industrial Greek town near the sea. This film focuses on Marina’s relationships.
Her social ineptitude is shocking — at first. Immediately following the kissing session, Marina and Bella seem to turn into animal-like creatures. Nothing Marina does seems “normal.” This exemplifies Marina’s inexperience with human species. It is by watching David Attenborough’s nature documentaries, for which Marina has an ardent passion, that Marina copes with her problems. She mispronounces his name as Attenberg, hence the title of the film.
Marina is looking to experiment, but after kissing Bella, claims she has no sexual desire. When an engineer comes to town and becomes romantically involved with Marina, her desire reappears. This affair is important as it helps her express her emotions, something she was unable to do.
The relationship between Marina and her father is the only one that keeps her from real loneliness. Marina’s father is an architect, and has returned to die. His mysterious disease leaves him in perennially cheerless. Marina has built her routine around her father’s needs. Their conversations deal with the fact that her father has given up on his own life, and humanity itself. To him, Greece is nothing like it used to be; it loses its natural beauty as it industrializes.
It is through these three relationships — her father, Bella, and the engineer — that Marina discovers herself. She is clearly on a different level than them, concerning her knowledge of social experiences and her understanding of the woints out all the crucial moments in life by telling Marina’s story.
Tsangari’s sweeping camera shots enable her to capture a lot, despite minimal camera movement. This lack of specificity underscores the subtleties of the film. The lack of close-ups emphasizes the emotional barriers between characters.The soundtrack is always appropriate. Pop music plays as the characters pass French bikers, adding a touch of happiness to Marina’s struggle. There are segments filled with silence, such as the kissing scene, which reflect the oppressive weight of Marina’s emotional barriers.
This film is a must-see. It is foreign, yet relatable. Marina’s struggle with expressing her emotions is hardly unusual. To some degree, many people find it difficult to open up to friends, lovers and even family, just like Marina. Often, these invisible barriers are inexplicable. Through Marina’s story, Tsangari does a beautiful job of acknowledging these challenges, and inspires the audience to do the same.
Attenberg is playing at 7:15 p.m. today at Cornell Cinema,Willard Straight Hall.