ATTENBERG – Introduction by Christoph Rainer, Columbia University School of the Arts

ATTENBERG - Introduction by Christoph Rainer, Columbia University School of the Arts

Despite the extremely difficult times for Greece, the small country has managed to gain a lot of international attention for its fresh contemporary cinema. The press already talks about the so-called Greek New Wave that some critics also regard as ‚magical formalism’. This movement was mostly initiated by one film: Dogtooth whose unique and challenging narration caused an immediate stir among press and audiences around the world. The film won Cannes’ Certain Regard Competition in 2009 and was later nominated for an Academy Award for the best foreign language film. It quickly became a cult film and a vital sign for the contemporary Greek cinema. The director, Giorgos Lanthimos, who also has a role in Attenberg, went on to make the equally acclaimed Alps, which ended up winning the screenwriting award in Venice in 2011.

Both of those game-changing films were produced by Athina Rachel Tsangari, who not only has a reputable producing resume, but is also an incredibly talented director herself. Tsangari directed Attenberg – an eccentric, emotionally quiet coming of age story in the midst of an industrial town that bears no hope of any kind for the 23 years old, detached Marina. With her father already on deathbed and a physical disgust for her own species, Marina goes through her tedious day to day routine which also covers various animal impersonations and synchronized dance interludes with her only friend, the promiscuous Bella. Between those poetic moments she simply roams through the desolate backdrop of the film: a place called Aspra Spitia (Greek for “white houses”), which was built by an aluminum mining company in the 60s and designed as an urbanist utopia. This industrial ghost town, where the director spent some of her childhood years herself, provides a depressing, vaguely science fiction setting.

Even though Attenberg makes no reference to the current economic and political crisis in Greece, the factory-landscaped world of the film beautifully illustrates a sense of stasis reflecting the contemporary national mood. It depicts a reality in which religious and secular structures of meaning have collapsed, in which motivation and hope is nowhere to be found, but in which life must nonetheless go on. Or to put it in the words of Marina’s father, a dying atheist architect who stands for a generation that once believed in the prosperous future of Greece: “Sometimes I think we are only building ruins!”

The nature documentary filmmaker, David Attenborough, who is also the approximate name giver to this film and a huge influence for Athina Rachel Tsangari, puts it quite beautifully in the film: “when we look into a gorilla’s eyes, there is a deeply meaningful and mutual understanding!” With this anthropological compassion Tsangari focuses the lens at Marina. We look into her apathetic face and deep into her passionless eyes and feel a meaningful connection as she struggles with those eternal subjects of Greek tragedies: death and sex.

The overwhelmingly withdrawn lead actress Ariana Labed, whose role not only looses her virginity, but also her father, received the Volpi Cup award for best performance at its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2010. The film went on to an intense festival run and received numerous more awards worldwide. As desolate as the economic situation in Greece is at the moment, as exciting is its cinematic output that conquers film lovers all around the globe within the last years. We wait eagerly for the next chapters of the Greek New Wave!

– Christoph Rainer
Columbia University School of the Arts, Film

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