Athina Rachel Tsangari's disarming second feature, Attenberg — Greece's unsuccessful submission for the Foreign Language Oscar nomination one year after Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth surprisingly made the final five — is a cracked coming-of-age tale set in a fading Greek seaside town. Ariane Labed (who won the Best Actress prize at the 2010 Venice Film Festival) stars as Marina, a 23-year-old virgin who tiptoes into sexual initiation — largely via a visitor played by Lanthimos — while nursing her single father and close confidant through his battle with cancer.
Taking its title from a lost-in-translation mangling of Sir Richard Attenborough's name (Marina's obsession with his nature documentaries dovetails with her growing awareness of animal instinct in her own life), Attenberg is an episodic sketch of a young woman's awakening to the agony, ecstasy and awkwardness of the human body: so much potential for pleasure, plus the inevitability of decay and death.
The film swings from dry comedy to allegorical musical numbers to unabashed sentimentality, soundtracked to French chanteuse pop and Suicide, while long, stunning wide shots describe the environment's uneasy mixture of serene natural beauty and industrial intrusion.
Tsangari, who produced Dogtooth, revisits tropes from that sensational provocation — including belated sexual awakening, wordplay and dancing as a loaded social ritual — but she's after something different here. Where Dogtooth was entirely hypothetical, Attenberg, for all of its playfulness in tone and form, takes place in a decidedly recognizable world of organic human feelings, percolating under the real cloud of a nation's decline. —Karina Longworth (Monica, Playhouse)