Sunday, March 18, 2012

101) Attenberg (2010)

101) Attenberg (2010) Dir: Athina Rachel Tsangari Date Released: March 9, 2012 Date Seen: March 18, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

At the start of Attenberg, I thought to myself: I know this place. I'm a Greek-American, born in Manhasset, Long Island and raised in Little Neck, Queens by my Greek-American mother (Xios, Greece), and my American father (Some part of Long Island...Tarrytown? Later Roslyn...). And while my experience visiting Greece has been limited to my going to Greek school, St. Nicholas's Church, family gatherings and years of visits to Athens and Xios, I felt like I initially knew where Attenberg was set. 

I don't mean that literally. Rather, I felt like I knew from the place where Marina (Ariane Labed) came from. Marina's father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) is dying of cancer. So when Marina is with her best friend Bella (Evangelina Randou), she screws around, plays games, revels in her imperious boredom. Because she comes from a desolate and slowly devolving world. 

More after the jump.

From a personal point of reference, Attenberg could just as easily be set in the barren stretch of nothing that separates the beach resort area of Xios from the comparatively urbanized part of the island. It's a lot of undeveloped land occasionally interrupted by stand-alone houses, some factories--and the sea. You can't get away from the sea on a Greek island anymore than you can get away from the broiling sun (The heat is oppressive; why isn't that little embellishing detail in more contemporary Greek films?).

That's the oppressive world of Attenberg, basically. Still, you have to realize: Marina likes being stuck in such a dead zone. This is a place that could, to use a Marina-ism, easily be characterized as "pedestrian." But over the course of Attenberg, we see that Marina only takes part in socially prescribed rituals (especially anything sex-oriented) because she wants to. Marina hangs around her father not out of obligation but because she wants to be with him. She is friends with Bella because she likes her, "dirty little slut" that she is. And she takes a shine to "the Engineer" (Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos), who I could swear is at one point also called "Spyros,"because he wants to be with her and isn't just a walking, talking, ejaculating penis with a personality. Heck, at one point, we even learn that Marina isn't a native-born Greek (it's hinted at when Bella corrects her Greek when she says "tit-trees," "prick-trees"). Everything Marina does isn't just an act of disobedience, but also a conflicted sign of love for the inherently stagnant (and very Greek!?) world she's inherited.

Tsangari effectively mines Marina's love-hate relationship with her nameless island home for wry yuks and clever scenes of improvisation. But what holds Attenberg back most from greatness is Tsangari's presentation of Marina's home as Greek microcosm. Spyros bluntly tells his daughter that the Greeks thoughtlessly joined the industrial age, replacing shepherds with factories over-night. We see the decrepit but still functional state of modern Greek industry in the rust-brown smoke stacks and jungle-gym-style factories that are always looming behind Marina between the sky and the sea. Here is Greece in a yet another state of socioeconomic ruination. Here is another quiet town characterized by the "petit-bourgeois" values of hospital attendants that are only interested in a dead patient for his paperwork and leftover possessions.

That's where Tsangari loses me. I can't get behind a movie that pushes such a facile view of Greece as a provincial Inferno caused by its citizens' ignorance and inability to become "modern." I don't buy it!  Because there are modern factories in the stretch of nothing between the beach and the town. They're not covered in rust and mud. No, they're actually nice, shiny white factories. I'm not so naive as to think that Tsangari's factories are anything more than exaggerations of the inner turmoil caused by those factories' existence. But that's not what I'm really objecting to. I object to the assumption that Greeks' backwards, material-oriented morals is either the reason for or symptomatic of their dire current economic crisis. There's no getting around the facile nature of Attenberg's social critique; Tsangari's movie is not willfully obtuse like Lanthimos's films are. It is however more monotonous and simplistic. I love most of Attenberg. But I really don't see it as an accurate vision of the Greece I know.

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