The Greek oddity "Attenberg" by Athina Rachel Tsangari made me laugh almost instantly with its opening kissing sequence which managed to be both hilarious and strangely unsettling. This unorthodox coming-of-age story concerns a young woman in a coastal village who has never had to adapt to the harsh realities of the world around her. Her existence is relatively insular. She spends time goofing off with her best gal pal, clowning with her father, and doing an occasional driving job. She lacks focus. On the surface, it seems that "Attenberg" is going to be comedic, but there is much seriousness layered throughout. Within a short period of time, our heroine must come to terms with illness, mortality and romance. And it's the tone with which the picture approaches these topics that makes it particularly unique. Everything is so dry, so matter-of-fact, so deadpan. There is no emotional grandstanding and not many big moments, but we see the subtle shifts that start to formulate a newfound maturity in our protagonist.
I tend to think (and perhaps I'll be wrong) that "Attenberg" might be a love-it or hate-it proposition. It has a chilly detachment, an attention to minutiae, and a methodical pace that may make it a chore for some viewers accustomed to more traditional storytelling. That's precisely what interested me most, however. I really didn't know where the picture was headed. Conversations and interactions are kept largely on the surface level and most of the real intent and emotions within the characters remained subtext. There is a lot that stays open-ended and available to different interpretations. And yet, the moments that are defined more by what is not said than by what is strike a very organic feel. The movie doesn't feel scripted, it feels lived by someone who just doesn't communicate in expected ways and, at times, seems emotionally stunted.
Ariane Labed is quite fascinating as the protagonist. As she shares space with Evangalia Randou (her best friend), Vangelis Mourikis (her father) and Giorgos Lanthimos (her beau), I was always interested in what she might do. I'm not sure, at the end of the day, that the film amounted to as much as I wanted it to or affected me as deeply as I might have liked. Ultimately, I found "Attenberg" intriguing if not wholly impactful. Still, it has a brash and bold humor that I appreciated. It's not an easy recommendation, but a recommendation nevertheless for the adult arthouse crowd. I wanted to love it, but I remained emotionally disconnected throughout. About 3 1/2 stars, I'll round up for Labed. KGHarris, 6/12.