Greece’s official foreign-language Oscar entry, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg” is a unique spin on the coming-of-age-film. In a stark white crumbling town by the sea, 23-year-old Marina has grown up an outsider to human interaction, splitting her time between caring for her dying father and receiving lessons in human intimacy from her only friend Bella.
Finding the human species almost alien, Marina observes life through the lens of her hero, Sir David Attenborough and the music of Suicide. In the midst of preparing for her father’s impending death, Marina meets Spyros, a visiting engineer with whom she explores her newly awakened sexuality.
In her second feature film, Tsangari makes her mark as a defining voice among the new wave of Greek cinema, with a film that defies convention and injects humor and sincerity into what are truly the defining moments in life. [Jenn Murphy for AFI Fest]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in 2011 AFI Fest’s Breakthrough, New Auteurs and Young Americans section to submit responses in their own words about their films. Get to know the films before they screen. AFI Fest takes place November 3 – 10 in Los Angeles.]
New Auteurs section
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Screenwriter: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Producer: Maria Hatzakou, Yorgos Lanthimos, Iraklis Mavroidis, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Angelos Venetis
Executive Producer: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos
Director of Photography: Thimios Bakatakis
Editor: Sandrine Cheyrol, Matt Johnson
Production Designer: Dafni Kalogianni
Cast: Ariane Labed, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Director Bio: An Associate Producer of Yorgos Lanthimos’ DOGTOOTH, Tsangari received an MFA in Film Directing from the University of Texas at Austin. Her debut feature, THE SLOW BUSINESS OF GOING, a lo-fi sci-fi road movie, was voted one of the “best undistributed films” in the 2002 Village Voice Critics’ Poll.
What’s your movie in 140 characters or less?
Sex, death, life in between.
Now describe what it’s really about…
Marina, 23, is growing up with her architect father in a factory town by the sea. Finding the human species strange and repellent, she chooses to observe it at a distance through the songs of Suicide, the mammal documentaries of Sir David Attenborough, and the sexual-education lessons she receives from her only friend, Bella.
Then, a stranger comes to town and challenges her to a foosball duel. Her father meanwhile ritualistically prepares for his exit from the 20th century, which he considers to be “overrated.” Caught between the two men and Bella her collaborator, Marina investigates the wondrous mystery of the human fauna.
I approached “Attenberg” as a nature documentary on the human species. Its title is an homage to a filmmaker who has inspired me with his reserved poetics, his transcendental view on wildlife.
The film journey from Greece to Texas…
[I was] born in Greece. Studied film in the US at the University of Texas at Austin. There I co-founded along with fellow student Bryan Poyser a short film festival called Cinematexas. My very first involvement in cinema was a tiny part in Richard Linklater’s “Slacker.” First feature “The Slow Business of Going” started as my thesis film in Austin. It’s a lo-fi-sci-fi road movie, shot in several cities across the world. We did it cheap working with a crew and cast of close friends, traveling, shooting, living…
I came back to Greece in 2004, invited to direct the videos of the Athens Olympics Opening Ceremony. I’ve been designing large scale, site-specific projections as my “day job”. Along with my longtime collaborator Matt Johnson, and later joined by ex-film programmer Maria Hatzakou, we created Haos Film, a filmmakers’ company in Athens. “Kinetta” (2005) by Yorgos Lanthimos was our first Greek production, “Alps” (2011) our latest. “Attenberg” is my first Greek film.
Archetypes vs. chacracters
I am primarily interested in archetypes rather than characters. I feel more comfortable with Euripides and Aeschylus than Aristotle. The story was structured around the twin magnetic poles of Eros and Thanatos, while averting from soft sentimentality. “Attenberg” is essentially a primal love story between a father and a daughter. She gives herself to another man when her father is ready to die. It’s a rite of passage for both of them – with all the grief, ecstasy, tragicomedy of a transitional process.
Challenges: Money & casting…
In keeping with the now infamous Greek crisis, I should say “money”, but actually that’s a big challenge for any film, anywhere. So, casting. It took me months to find the right people for the four main parts. Except for Vangelis Mourikis who plays the father, the rest are non screen actors.
The lead actress Ariane Labed (Marina) is a French theater performer who had never acted in a film before and apart for a few strong curse words, she spoke no Greek. Evangelia Randou (“Bella”) is a prominent Greek dancer and choreographer. Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Engineer”) is film director (“Kinetta,” Dogtooth,” “Alps”).
Considering how audiences will react to “Attenberg”
The question we get a lot in festival Q&As is “If you were an animal, what would you be”. And people seem to get either furious or giddy with the so-called “silly walks” by the girls. I like not knowing how audiences will respond to anything I do. It would take all the fun out of it.
“The trials of Life” by Attenborough. “Katzelmacher” by Fassbinder. “The Shepherds of Disaster” by Nico Papatakis. “The Furies” by Anthony Mann. “Vivre sa Vie” by Godard. Minelli’s musicals.
What’s next in the pipeline?
Two screwball tragedies. One is co-written with Bryan Poyser, to be shot in Austin. And the other is a full on sci-fi film, co-written with Matt Johnson, to be shot in Greece and Europe. Howard Hawks meets Euripides- basically.