ATTENBERG Review: Offers No Discernible Insights On Any Subject

I wasn't bored, and I was prepared to wait patiently until the last second, thinking that some event or dialogue would shed some light on everything that had come before. But it never came.

(Rob's Venice 2010 film festival review re-posted ahead of Attenberg's UK theatrical release on Friday)

rating: 2

I hope Greek director Athena Rachel Tsangari wasn't in the screening of in competition film Attenberg in Venice this evening. It got what was definitely the worst reception a film has received here that, at least that I have personally witnessed. No booing or anything (that doesn't seem to happen outside of Cannes) but very faint applause from a handful of people, in a large cinema which started full and ended up with less than half those people remaining. Walk outs were constant (and distracting) throughout. The film is, like many of the films here, light on plot - although unlike many of the films here it doesn't substitute that for ideas or to provoke an emotion. There was nothing nasty or offensive in the film, although two ladies did walk out before the title came up after a brief scene of two ladies kissing. Instead, I think people were just bored. The plot could be boiled down as follows: two slightly weird young women (who act more like adolescent girls) hang out and do weird dances and talk about boys. One of them has a boyfriend, the other has a terminally ill father, with whom she is discussing burial arrangements. It's only about an hour and a half long, but that's padded with extended scenes of the aforementioned weird dances (which could charitably be described as skipping) and a couple of moments where the women sing to the camera. It reminded me of another Greek film, Dogtooth, in that one of the women, Marina (Ariane Labed), is sexually naive and experiments in odd, childish, vaguely disturbing ways - the opening kissing scene I mentioned being an extended take of Marina and her friend Bella (Evangelia Randou) touching tongues. Marina also accompanies Bella in a scene where she meets a guy to kiss, standing guard over their bikes and looking on, a bit like a a couple of school kids. But, alas, it isn't Dogtooth - a film of wit and ideas. What this film is about eludes me. I have no idea what, if anything, Tsangari is trying to say. I read the "director's statement" in the programme, hoping to glean some insight as to what the point of it all was, but all it said was: "I made a film about four people who happen to be in the same place at the same time. Three people become four, then two. Three, of course, being the only perfect number in a relationship." Not only do I have no idea what that means, but I certainly didn't pick up on that "theme" whilst watching the film. I'll provide some sort of half-hearted analysis though: the title is based on one of the girl's mispronounced attempt to say "Sir David Attenborough" - the English nature documentarian. Marina watches his programmes and mimics the animals. It is clear from things she says that she reveres the beloved presenter. So perhaps the film has something to do with human beings as impulsive animals? The dying father is an architect (responsible for the human habitat), whereas much of the film concerns other behaviour also found in animals: socialising, play and sex. But What that adds up to, I couldn't say. I give up. Sorry Attenberg. I really want to stand your corner, because you were nicely shot and the lead actress was beguiling (and deserving of better material). I wanted you to be good, if only to spite the early walk outs. But you made me feel nothing and you offered no discernible insights on any subject. I wasn't bored, and I was prepared to wait patiently until the last second, thinking that some event or dialogue would shed some light on everything that had come before. But it never came. Attenberg is released in the U.K. on Friday.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.