Maybe it’s just the trio of Greek films that I’ve seen in recent times (Alps and Dogtooth being directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, who also appears in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg), but there are definite stylistic similarities between them.
The focus is very much on character portraits and relationships. Attenberg deals with a girl in her early 20s who tends to her dying father (with frank discussions about sex and incest), impersonates animals & tries to create the sexual desire that she feels she ought to have by sleeping with a visiting engineer. Her friend, with whom she watches animal documentaries, may or may not be a figment of her imagination. It’s not entirely clear.
The acting styles are deliberately awkward and uncomfortable to watch. The extended animal impersonation scenes In Attenberg are like cringe-making drama school improvisation classes.
Greece as portrayed in these films is neither “birthplace of civilisation” or “holiday destination”. It’s certainly stifling, but that’s down to tight social conventions, rather than temperature. Yet somehow, individuals seem able to behave more or less how they want without much intervention. Attenberg tells us that cremation is not permitted in Greece – yet officials will tell you exactly how to go about getting a cremation abroad if you want. And then there’s Dogtooth, where one family’s horribly warped way of life goes unchecked by any external authority.
There’s a dispassionate and voyeuristic element to these films. They are metaphors, parables on the state of modern Greece, and so the characters become ciphers rather than people we can empathise with or understand. Attenberg makes the point that we’re just behaving in our habitats in the same way as the animals filmed by the title’s mispronounced hero, Sir David Attenborough. They go about their lives, we can only watch.