NZIFF ’11: Attenberg

nziff ’11: Attenberg
dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari | Greece | 2010 | 95 mins.

Attenberg is an attempt to examine the human species in the same way Sir David Attenborough observes animals in nature: with a desire to understand what makes them tick. Numerous clips from Attenborough’s shows are woven into the film, the title being a play on the mispronunciation of the British naturalist’s surname. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari has stated in interviews, “I don’t use psychology, I prefer biology or zoology. These are my tools.”

Against the backdrop of an industrial ghost town we meet Marina, a somewhat emotionally immature woman in her early twenties. She is an innocent, claiming that men repel her, but is intrigued enough by sex to find out more about it from her experienced best friend, Bella, who is more than happy to teach her all she knows. Other “subjects” of interest for the viewer are Marina’s atheist father, an architect being treated for (but slowly dying from) a cancerous tumour, and a young engineer who becomes the object of Marina’s sexual experimentation.

Spatially and emotionally closed off from the rest of the world, the characters are treated like animals in a zoo. Presented in a series of long, unbroken shots, Tsangari allows us to observe their movements closely, often avoiding direct emotion and giving the film a clinical, scientific feel.  Only towards the end of the film do Marina’s relationships become strained, finally allowing us to see a more human side of her.

In true art-house style the pacing is slow, but the subtly humorous moments, simplistic script, and powerful performances are enough to make Attenberg worth the watch.

The New Zealand International Film Festivals began on July 14 in Auckland; they start in Wellington on July 29, then travel to Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, and Hamilton throughout August, and Nelson, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay, Greymouth, Masterton, and, finally, Kerikeri in November.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

For more reviews, browse the “New Zealand International Film Festivals 2011
tag on this site, and check the Twitter hashtag #nzff.