Venice and TIFF 2010. Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Attenberg"

David Hudson

Let's begin this one with Josef Braun's first review in his first dispatch from Toronto: "Like last year's Dogtooth, which [Athina Rachel] Tsangari co-produced, Attenberg is marked by its somewhat perverse engagement in family, belated sexual development, and an extreme case of naïveté that, aggressively quirky as it may be, is mercifully and rigorously stripped of affectation — its lead actress Ariane Labed just won a much-deserved award at Venice. Dogtooth director Giorgios Lanthimos meanwhile shows up here playing a kindly, soft-spoken love interest who connects with Labed by way of their mutual fondness for the 70s electro-punk duo Suicide. Tsangari's approach is at once anthropological, elliptical, and surrealistically comic.... It's the story of a dying widower trying to prepare his adult daughter for, well, basically for he rest of her life. Like Claire Denis's 35 Rhums, this feels like another enormously creative variation on Ozu's Late Spring."

"Labed plays an aloof 23-year-old who's lived her whole life in a sterile apartment complex in a Greek factory town, raised by an intellectual father who engages her in rhyming games and marathon viewings of David Attenborough nature documentaries," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "The only other person she hangs out with is a girl roughly the same age, Evangelia Randou, who tries to teach her how to kiss and attract men (when she's not joining Labed in impromptu impressions of animal strutting).... Attenberg is memorable and even stunning at times, but the material's a little too thin for Tsangari's weird-for-weird's-sake moves."

"In many respects, Attenberg reads as the more feminine, more permeable flipside to Lanthimos's film (I'd say 'warmer,' but it's still impressively chilly)," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention.

"Attenberg certainly works as a wacky, decidedly arthouse coming-of-age narrative, but a more intellectual exploration of various Freudian concepts is also there for the taking," suggests Boyd van Hoeij in Variety. "Marina's not entirely happy discovery of kissing, sex and passionate love (all ultimately derived from an animalistic urge to procreate), are coupled here with its opposite: death (which, in biological terms, procreation is meant to overcome). The first close experiences of both, Tsangari seems to suggest, are unpleasant but necessary rites of passage on the way to adulthood."

"Shot in a clinical manner, Tsangari's approach drains any risk of emotion, particularly in the early stages, as it uses dialogue in a dry sarcastic manner and underlining the animalistic aspects of the human race whenever there is a chance for it," writes Dan Fainaru for Screen. "It is only towards the end, after Marina's affair with the visiting engineer reaches something more than a mechanical dimension and the death of her father takes its toll on her, that the sarcasm is finally toned down, allowing something like real humor and authentic sorrow to penetrate in.

"Although not entirely successful as a film, Ms Tsangari does manage to explore the sense of alienation between father and daughter as a reflection of a wider angst in a Mediterranean society that is plugged-in and high-tech but emotionally disconnected from its past," proposes Roderick Conway Morris for the International Herald Tribune.

"'The 20th century is overrated,' one of the characters says at one point," notes Gabriele Barcaro at Cineuropa. "The same can be said of certain films, even though they end up in competition [in Venice]."


Attenberg screens once more in Toronto on Friday.

Update, 9/20: Daniel Kasman finds Attenberg "working some kind of cinematic alchemy to meld [its] incompatible elements... The results, as with all alchemy, are unstable — resolving a simultaneous narrative of terminal illness and 'blossoming' sexuality can only and ever result either in sentimentality or, as here, a tepid, near inert half-finish. But before the finale the film is rife with this burbling chemistry."

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Athina Rachel TsangariGiorgos LanthimosVeniceVenice 2010TIFFTIFF 2010DailyNewsFestival Coverage
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