Attenberg – or how to watch your own species

Attenberg is a special film and as the director, Athina Rachel Tsangari, says, it does and further might divide the audience.

Nevertheless I insist that it is a great film, so worth watching – and not only for finding out, what the intention is behind this spread out poster image of the may be strangest and eventually longest kiss scene in cinema history (history of film kisses).

The intention of the director according to her own words is to ‘tell the story of one system through another one’. That might in her terms be the story of society told through the system of a specific family.

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And family here is not understood as the typical dysfunctional one, but eventually one that ironically is rather ‘unfamiliar’. Something from the fringes of the system, but that nevertheless represents the species exemplary. It is a quite surprising turn: the story of the common told through an unlikely constellation. Consequently the figures as well as their environment don’t intertwine well. They are all sort of ‘out of balance’ while still considering themselves as coherent beings. But their landscape is empty and monolithic. A fact that even cannot be dissolved by the promiscuous sex of Marina’s best friend. Delusional dysfunction depicted as an allegory of the seemingly societal functional. It concerns basically all of the main characters, may it be the minimal life of Marina, the destructive or if nicer expressed – non existent – heritage of her dying father or the desperate life of her best friend.

In fact the film explores in a unique way how the one-sided intentions, which drive them all, resonance in and through the environment, which seems strictly limited in itself. Obviously at least Marina’s father sees himself as having had impact into building the remaining ruins he is going to leave behind to his daughter. This sort of bleak attitude intersects with choreographic scenes that break the narrative and remind as a sort of danced ‘silly walks’ to Monty Python’s ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’. It is a surprising turn towards pure movement that is described by the director as scenes which explore the possibilities that delineate the characteristics of her main figures outside of the narrated story line but discloses the flow of their other possibilities. What at first sight could be seen as strange intersperses becomes interaction that suddenly turns into a definition of chances ‘outside/of the frame’. If considered that the figures should have been freaks, outsiders or a sort of prototypes for these, they certainly gain their strength in these specific scenes which show them outside their predefined definitions. As such these pure ‘silly’ movements develop a life of their own.

The categories, as well as (family) structures, of the good, the bad, the whore and the inactive, the poly and the mono, the allowed and the experienced they all dissolve into something open – though yet not further defined. In this they are disclosed in their bareness – almost shamelessly. They stand as they are – naked, as in the scene when Marina first meets her future lover.

We are watching them fairly unsentimental, in an almost voyeuristic way. Though there is a tender, loving observation of the species, that it shows their moves and intentions as isolated actions which seem not interconnect between them. May be we are irritated by their language, may be we don’t understand what drove them. We don’t understand any of their behavior, but we love them for just being there … and watch them just like the chimpanzees in Attenboroughs documentaries. Do we understand our own species? Can we even communicate with them except through strange dance moves?

The film is partly really funny, but more importantly amazing in taking this view. It is a distancing view, one that allows a different approach. May be it shows us more clearly why we need the other (and their way of different behavior and living) and why failure might be the most important help in the project of delusion. A point we might need to consider more seriously sooner than later. Or is there anyone yet doubting the impact of crisis – or let’s call it financial illusional strategies we still build our world upon.

Though the view out there shows a world, that is bland. The species not well trained. It feels a lot like we got up on the wrong foot. So why not try dancing according to the possibilities defined by the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’. An option at least to find new moves – eventually.

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