IFFR 2011: ATTENBERG review

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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IFFR 2011: ATTENBERG review

Last year the International Film Festival Rotterdam showed the currently Oscar-nominated "Dogtooth" by Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos, with Athina Rachel Tsangari listed as associate producer.

This year the IFFR shows another collaboration of these two although this time the roles are switched: "Attenberg" is directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari and produced by Giorgos Lanthimos (who is also one of the actors in it).
The end result seems to be as award-prone as "Dogtooth", with leading lady Ariane Labed already picking up a Coppa Volti for Best Actress at the Film Festival in Venice.

The trailer (included here at the bottom) implied a humorous and off-kilter look at several adult subjects. So does the movie deliver? Read on!

The Story:

Twenty-three year old Marina is close to exactly two people: her father Spyros and her friend Bella. But as her father starts entering the final stage of his terminal disease, Marina wants to learn how to open up to other people as well. Not just because she fears loneliness, but also because she is curious about this thing called sex, a subject Bella seems to be very familiar with but which is still weird and alien to Marina...

The Movie:

At the start of the film you see a wonderfully weird conversation between Bella and Marina, the first of many in "Attenberg". Marina has an odd way of communicating: she fires off strings of formal, clipped comments and questions. These include embarrassing statements, brutal honesties, general observations and scathing remarks seemingly without distinction. It's as if language itself is a barrier Marina has raised to keep the rest of the world at a distance, and only her father and Bella are able to return this kind of communication.

Spyros has been raising Marina by himself for years, and their bond is very gentle and strong. And Bella is a true friend in the best sense of the word, never getting angry at Marina's odd behavior and always willing to join her in a train of thought or some weird action. For proof of this just watch their collection of hilarious funny walks, shown as episode-breaks throughout the film.

When Marina starts to look at the world beyond these two people, it almost feels like an expedition. Marina is not dumb or damaged, but extremely, almost autistically set in her own ways. It means that any new thing she tries, any new contact she instigates, gets done with a clumsy, leaden seriousness. Thankfully, the world she reaches out to turns out not to be a particularly unpleasant one.

Notice that in the above I've described the three main characters as if they are real, and that is because during the film it totally seems that way. Instead of visual trickery, director Athina Rachel Tsangari is happy to just show these people go about their business, almost as if they are in a documentary.

And because the acting is so strong it totally works.
Ariane Labed is fantastic as Marina, a character so stiff, yet so quirky at times that it is amazing she never becomes a caricature. As Marina's manner of speech does not allow for any emotion whatsoever, Ariane needs to do nearly all the acting through her eyes and suppressed body-language.
The other actors are very good as well, all bouncing off of Marina's character like she is a wall.

Kudos to Athina Rachel Tsangari for allowing her small ensemble of actors to shine the way they do. Her "Attenberg" expertly focuses on its own strengths and spends no time on anything else.


Winning you over by way of sheer acting power and a simple script with quirky yet believable characters, "Attenberg" is a nice, gentle and at times pretty funny drama. Don't expect to be bowled over but there is a good chance you'll be impressed.

The audience in Rotterdam liked it as well and gave it a rating of 3.6 out of 5, which is half a point too low in my opinion.

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Athina Rachel TsangariAriane LabedYorgos LanthimosVangelis MourikisEvangelia RandouDrama

More about Attenberg

anie.wiederFebruary 6, 2011 11:09 PM

Interesting! Can't wait to see it now

Also, ".6"? Don't you hate these ratings?

Ard VijnFebruary 7, 2011 4:39 AM

Well, the ratings system works like this: you get a card with 5 numbers on it, and you need to tear it at the number you deem most fitting.

1 = bad
2 = poor
3 = average or interesting
4 = good
5 = very good

Cards are collected at the end of the screening and in this case the 3.617 is the mean of all votes.

It's not a perfect system of course: films with a strong finale score high as everyone is still feeling the "rush" when tearing their cards. A director's speech or a Q&A at the end can have a very positive effect as well. Films that need to sink in for a day or two obviously don't benefit.

Nevertheless you can say by rule of thumb that any film which scores a 4 or higher is worth watching, if only because it managed to be a crowdpleaser at this festival. And between 3 and 4 you get into "acquired taste" territory. Below 3 things get tricky, although in past years some of my personal favorites happened to come from this segment.

But when a film scores 4.7 out of 5 like "Incendies", it's most always a deserved must-see!

Ben UmsteadFebruary 7, 2011 6:06 PM

3.6 seems very good considering the subject and approach of the film, which I'd imagine would divide an audience even as well informed and open-minded as I'm sure Rotterdam's is. At any rate, the first opportunity I have to see this I shall.

sitenoiseFebruary 7, 2011 9:54 PM

I give this review a 4.7 (which rounds up to 5 stars) ... it made me really want to see a film I hadn't even heard of.