Sunday, August 7, 2011

MIFF session 13 (final): Attenberg

A white wall. Seconds later the same white wall. Its texture of plaster pocks and flaking paint becomes interesting. Bela Tarr's idea about long takes and the creativity of the audience comes to the fore. Then, just as I was going to happily meditate on time and entropy two young women approach each other from each side of the screen. They stop short of an intimate space and gingerly crane their necks to bring their faces together in a kiss. But it is the kind of kiss two gekos might give each other. They are working out the process. Their dialogue has the naive lilt of absurdism. Unsuccessful, they assume the roles of fighting cats, snarling and clawing.

The blonde woman, Marina, waits at her father's side in hospital and at home, as he goes through treatment for a condition that, while undisclosed, appears to be terminal. Their continued dalogue soon becomes the focus of the film. What a relief it was to witness the examination of developing grief enacted in a perfectly functional father daughter bond. Their conversations touch on all that concerns them in the light of his impending death and are a realistic blend of grimness, fear and humour.

The third strain of this film is Marina's growing experimetation with sex and love. She works as a chauffeur for the local mining company and strikes up a relationship with a young visiting contractor. Step by step the awkward pair travel to their consumation which, though unerotic to the eye, is trauma free.

The first strain, which gives the film its title, develops into a series of odd dance duets which look like a mix of chrorus line routines and animal behaviour seen on David Attenborough documentaries (Bella, the brunette, misprononounces the name as Attenberg).

If all this sounds like Ingmar Bergman does Wes Anderson allow me to disabuse. The central relationship between father and daughter gathers a quiet but powerful momentum and while humour and whimsy trade time in their talk with the details of cremation (currently illegal in the film's native Greece necessitating complicated organisation to effect. The mounting gravity of this and its effect on Marina managed to bring me ust short of tears with its quiet and dignified intensity.

Marina's odd friendship with Bella, mostly the dances but also a number of dialogues that while funny reveal strong differences between the two. Quirky exchanges, often funny but never cloyingly cute, they place Marina in her self-limited social realm. This strain coalesces with a gentle power with the main, providing the finale with a reinforced sense of transition.

This is low-narrative filmmaking that prefers emtional movement over character motivation or the three acts. It is still fiction, though and yet more proof that fiction can play without narrative and still engage its audience. Because of this, Attenberg must take longer to settle into its rhythms and carefully guide its viewers away from the expectation of narrative and allow them to savour the work of a sturdy cast and some individualistic writing. Seldom has grief felt so light and yet so like grief.

An easy and fitting farewell to the festival.

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