More times than not, the national cinema of Greece seems to be in a world all its own. Granted, there are similarities with neighbouring nations like Hungary and Romania and the Balkans - slow, methodical pacing, strange surreal imagery, the visual over the narrative - but Greece holds its own with its own sense of strangeness. And in recent years Greek directors have taken this inherent strangeness and played it into an even stranger kind of subversion. This was more than evident in Yorgos Lanthimos brilliantly sadistic 2009 film, Dogtooth, and it is again evident here in the much sweeter but still quite seditious Attenberg.
Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, Attenberg is the story of Marina, a sexually naive 23 year old woman who lives with her dying father and receives life and love lessons from her much more promiscuous and worldly friend Bella. With more than an obvious nod to the New Wave movements of the 1960's, Tsangari's film is full of both overly giddy excitement and bone-crushing waves of depression, all the meanwhile interspersed with moments of non-sequitor dancing and performance art gaiety. Granted, this film is no more strange than many out there. It never delves all that deeply into the bizarre, antidisastablishmentarianism of the works of someone like Jan Svankmajer or the Brothers Quay or Jodorowsky, or for that matter the dark escapes of Bela Tarr or the Romanians, and it certainly is not a cinema for the masses (though in Greece this may not be true), but for the more daring filmgoer, it could easily be a surprising and very welcome little treat.
The true highlights of this film though are the performances of its lead actresses. Arian Labed as Marina and Evangelia Randou as Bella are both strange and beautiful creatures indeed, and this, should I say otherworldiness for lack of a better or less clichéd word, lends to the insular characterization these two actresses expose us to. Labed took home the Best Actress prize at Venice, and deservedly so if one were to ask me, for this unusual yet archetypal performance. Not so incidentally, the film also features the aforementioned Dogtooth helmsman Yorgos Lanthimos as Marina's first encounter. Lanthimos also acts as producer on this film, as Ms. Tsangari did on Dogtooth, and is directing a new film which stars Labed. The Greek film industry must be the proverbial small world you've heard tell about. But I suppose if this is today's Greek cinema, with its kook-kook-kooky cinematic bravura, again hearkening back to the French and Czech New Waves, then there are worse kinds of cinema to be.