Athina Rachel Tsangari Studies the Species in Attenberg
Athina Rachel Tsangari approaches dramatic filmmaking like an anthropologist: I dont use psychology, she says. I prefer biology or zoology. These are my tools.
The Greek-born filmmakerwhose superbly calibrated second film, Attenberg, focuses on a newly sexual young woman and her dying fatherleft her native country in the early 1990s to study performance art at New York University. It was all about the semiotics of everyday gestures, she says. It taught me a lot about observing and deconstructing human behavior, movement, and speech.
Indeed, Attenberg examines the male and female species as if they were poor little creatures, as she explains, desperately trying to crawl from one place to another. The film was partially inspired by David Attenboroughs BBC nature series The Trials of Life: A Natural History of Behaviour, and takes its title from a mispronunciation of the British filmmakers name.
But while Tsangari may have borrowed Attenboroughs British phlegmatic tenderness, as she calls it, Attenberg is worlds away from a nature documentary. With its modernist, industrial setting, absurdist wordplay, and dance-like interludesinfluenced as much by Monty Pythons Ministry of Silly Walks as Fassbinders Katzelmacherthe movie is closer to the approach of Godard or Bresson (whom she also cites as influences).
And yet the film is very much Tsangaris own singular construction, alternating between socially coded manners and liberating whimsy. We were very strict in the delivery of speech and the orientation of bodies, she says, but there was also this desire to escape from the tyranny of words and propriety. In one sequence, for example, father and daughter jump up and down on a bed, mimicking the movements and sounds of an assortment of animals, from a gorilla to an albatross.
Attenbergs central relationship also goes beyond the directors interest in human behavior and addresses broader questions of national identity. In a way, [the daughters] connection with her dad represents my connection with what I perceive as Greece, admits Tsangari, who fled the country when she was 19 and didnt return until 12 years later. (She spent eight years living in Austin, Texas, and joined up with Richard Linklater; she appears briefly in Slacker as someones Greek cousin.) I always felt like I didnt belong.
But unlike the perverse authoritarian patriarchy in Greeces recent Oscar nominee Dogtooth, for which Tsangari served as an associate producer, her views about her native country arent quite so grim. While elaborating on her complicated connection to her homeland, she aptly describes her film as well: Its this sense of loving, but not being sure how to do something good with itlike this self-imploding, self-destructive pathos.
Attenberg screens March 31 and April 2
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