Today: July 20, 2024


When one thinks of European cinema, one is far more likely to think of France, Italy, Germany or Spain than one is to think of Greece. Greek cinema seldom wows festival audiences and is seldom seen outside of Greece.

When one thinks of European cinema, one is far more likely to think of
France, Italy, Germany or Spain than one is to think of Greece. Greek cinema seldom wows festival
audiences and is seldom seen outside of Greece.

All of this changed last year when Giorgios Lanthimos’s Dogtooth found its way onto British
cinema screens. Dogtooth followed
a group of young people as they slowly disentangled themselves and their
sexualities from the surreal and controlling influence of parents who raised
them to believe that the outside world was a dangerous wasteland. Athina Rachel Tsangai’s Attenberg revisits Dogtooth’s
post-industrial vistas, its surreal approach to character and its concern with
arrested emotional development but despite owing a clear debt to Lanthimos (who
features as both actor and producer), Tsangari’s take on the same material
proves to be not only more subtle and substantial but also a good deal more

Attenberg begins with a dying man (Mourikis). Once an
engineer, he now looks out over the factories and housing estates he helped to
build and mocks the hubris of a generation that tried to transform Greece from
a nation of pre-industrial shepherds to a nation of post-industrial consumers
without ever bothering to industrialise. Disgusted by the world his generation
created, the engineer retreated into a world of nature documentaries and bebop
records, a world in which he raised his only daughter Marina (Labed). Now an adult, Marina finds
herself confronted with the fact that when her father dies, his world will die
with him. This means that Marina must now learn the lessons and skills that she
should have picked up as a teenager: she needs to learn how to kiss, she needs
to understand sex and she needs to know how to relate to other people as
adults. Marina must grow up and face the harsh reality of a world stripped of
parental control and influence.

Marina’s learning curve finds her
bouncing between the confusing and paradoxical influences of her father and her
best friend Bella (Randou).
Initially, Marina uses Bella as a role model as Bella is assumed to be far more
worldly and sophisticated than her father. However, it soon emerges that while Bella has probably had
sex, she is just as ‘stuck’ as Marina and just as fond of doing childish
things. The pair’s shared
disconnection from the real world is beautifully conveyed in a series of
sequences in which they practice their silly walks along a garden path. Feeling ambitious, the pair then take
their walks out onto the streets where real people live and breathe. Suddenly the pair’s delightful whimsy
seems desperately small while the world seems desperately big.

Conversely, the engineer may
encourage Marina to spend her time listening to bebop, watching David
Attenborough documentaries and pulling funny faces, but he also tries to help
Marina grow up by forcing her to acknowledge the hidden realities of his
life. Yes, he lived in a whimsical
dream world, but this dream world existed because the engineer knew when to be
a grown-up. As the engineer gets
progressively weaker, Marina is forced to take on more and more
responsibilities and these responsibilities move her away from Bella and
towards Spyros (Lanthimos) an attractive
single man whose desire for Marina makes him desperate for her to grow up.

Much like Dogtooth, Attenberg is
ultimately a film about the transfer of power from one generation to the
next. Both films present the
post-War Baby Boomers as a generation of addle-brained fantasists and control
freaks. Flattered by decades of economic growth into an all-consuming sense of
entitlement, the Baby Boomers nurtured a vision of the world that bore very
little resemblance to reality. As
the post-War generation grows older and their children reach adulthood and
middle-age, the Baby Boomers try their best to protect their vision of the
world despite the terrible economic and psychological consequences of their
delusions. Both Dogtooth and Attenberg revolve around young people emerging
from their parents’ delusions and having to grow up pretty damn quickly. While
the economic situation in Greece may have informed the writing and direction of
both films, the themes and concerns they embody are as universal as they are
politically powerful.

While Lanthimos’ Dogtooth made the
case for ‘growing up’ using a combination of surrealism and post-apocalyptic
genre elements, Tsangari echoes the use of surrealism but augments it with
stunning cinematography and delicate psychological realism to create a
devastating picture of one generation that refuses to grow up and another
generation that refuses to die. Attenberg may present itself as a whimsical
drama filled with oddness and humour, but inside that velvet gloves lurks the
steely fist of intelligence and political engagement.

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