It’s somewhat remarkable that a film so concerned with garnering a sense of intrigue and off-the-wall quirkiness as Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg (2010) could end up being so unremarkable.
With sex and death at the heart of proceedings, the story focuses upon the Attenberg’s withdrawn and awkward protagonist Marina, and her close but unusual friendship with Bella, a girl whose outlook on both the aforementioned subjects is vastly contrasting. The characters’ relationship is explored and developed through their widely differing approach to sex; Marina, repulsed and repelled by the thought of sexual contact; Bella, a woman of far greater sexual experience and prowess. Marina’s view of the subject is conveyed in a childlike sense, with Bella taking on the role of an experienced elder, allowing Marina to use her as a means to explore her sexuality.
Attenberg’s opening scene essentially exemplifies this by setting the template for their relationship, with Bella trying to teach Marina how to kiss with rather disappointing results, as Marina’s response is one of disgust and revulsion at the idea of making such contact with another person.
Whilst Bella’s view on sex initially makes her appear more mature or ‘grown-up’ than her friend, the pair are regularly seen dancing around in the street together and behaving in a seemingly childish way. These scenes, rather than adding an extra layer of complexity to the relationship, as they are clearly intended to do so, end up feeling a little pointless and overly quirky.
Marina’s foray into the world of sexuality is set to the backdrop of her father’s imminent death from an ongoing illness. Through her discussions of both sex and death with her father, Marina sets out to persuade Bella to sleep with him as a final sexual experience before he dies. Again, in many ways, there is an overwhelming sense that the film is trying its hardest to surprise or shock, yet fails to do so precisely due to its imbalance of heavy-handedness and large periods of tediousness.
At one point, during a conversation between Marina and her father about him potentially fantasising about her, he comments that some taboos should remain taboo. It is moment s such as these that ultimately let Attenberg down. On far too many occasions, one feels that the director is telling you how to respond to the characters’ behaviour, as opposed to generating a natural response.
In essence, Attenberg is a film far too contrived to provoke any genuine reaction, which is a real shame, as somewhere amongst the nonsense lies the potential for an interesting piece of work.