out of Five
Running time: 97
Impressively directed and superbly acted, Attenberg plays like a light-hearted, quirky version of Dogtooth, though its relative lack of plot means that it's difficult to engage with the characters on an emotional level.
What's it all about?
Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, Attenberg stars Ariane Labed as Marina, a sheltered, peculiar 20-something woman who spends her time looking after her caring, terminally ill father (Vangelis Mourikis), with whom she cheerfully discusses funeral arrangements while bonding over their mutual love of David Attenborough documentaries (the title comes from Marina's mispronunciation of Attenborough's name). As her father's condition worsens, Marina begins to explore both the outside world and her own sexuality as a result of her friendship with the equally peculiar Bella (Evangelia Randou), who helpfully teaches Marina to kiss with tongues in the film's opening scene.
Co-star Giorgos Lanthimos (who plays Marina's sort of love interest) wrote and directed 2009's Dogtooth, so it's perhaps no surprise that Attenberg explores some similar ideas. However, Dogtooth had a much darker plot element, with the father forcibly keeping his grown children in a child-like state and Attenberg is ultimately frustrating in comparison because there's no ostensible reason for Marina and Bella's unusual behaviour.
That said, the film is beautifully shot throughout (Tsangari has a strong visual style) and there are several wonderfully quirky moments, such as Marina and Bella's penchant for silly dancing, although that does go on slightly longer than strictly necessary. Similarly, Labed and Randou are both excellent as the two young women and there's strong support from Lanthimos and Mourikis.
The main problem is that the relative lack of plot means that we don't really get to know the characters, so it's hard to engage with either Marina or Bella on an emotional level. Their relationship is also frustratingly underwritten – we never find out how they met, for example – and their mutual weirdness eventually wears thin, given the lack of context.
In short, Attenberg is worth seeing as a sort of light-hearted companion piece to Dogtooth but it's a much less satisfying experience overall and lacks both the depth and the emotional impact of Lanthimos' film.