New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Off the Radar: ‘Attenberg’ is a transformative repose

Off the Radar is a weekly column surveying overlooked films available to students for free via NYU’s streaming partnerships. “Attenberg” is available to stream on Kanopy.
Mikaylah Du
Attenberg is a 2010 Greek drama film written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. (Mikaylah Du for WSN)

We’ve reached the point in the slow-going transition from winter to spring of being desperate for something new — conditioning ourselves to the gloominess of a New York City March was just as delightful as it always is. Now, I dream of dogs in backyards, sun-soaked patios and a day at the park under a big oak tree. Greek filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg” (2010) doesn’t deliver any of that imagery. Instead, it takes the viewer’s mind on a serene voyage away from the vessel it inhabits. It allows you to finally forget all of the ticks and aches that go into walking along a destined path toward college graduation by carrying you away on the quiet, ethereal blessing of Tsangari’s picture.

Marina, the protagonist, (Ariane Labed) is a 23-year-old virgin living in a rusty factory town called Aspra Spitia. Over the course of the film, she spends time with her dying father, immerses herself in the wildlife documentaries of British broadcaster David Attenborough and attempts to gain sexual experience in spite of her apparent asexuality. Marina’s confrontation with sudden loss, change and independence is instructive for the soon-to-be graduates who will very shortly also be reckoning with an upheaval of change.

“Attenberg” deals with oblivion, or that which wedges itself between two people when they are unable to communicate –– a daily occurrence for Marina, who is simply unable to relate to the people she meets. In the film, Attenborough speaks of the potential of “escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature’s world,” and we cut immediately to Marina and her friend Bella jumping along just as birds would, splaying their hands out behind them to mimic tailfeathers.

This decisive turn to the animal world is Marina’s way of choosing alienation as a mode of experience. At once, she appears as a woman but behaves like a monkey. Her societal irreverence demarcates her as a woman of her own will. She is willing to dance the hours of the evening away and resorts to dance when her father finally dies in front of her. In that moment of desperate grief, the song she dances to is “Be Bop Kid” by Suicide — his favorite, and a new favorite of mine.

Marina’s father wants to be cremated, yet this is not permitted by the Orthodox church and so not an available practice in Greece. The only way to get through it involves flying his corpse to another country and cremating it there. This is expensive and circuitous, but Marina does it anyway, signing the paperwork and soberly flying across Europe with his coffin. By honoring the wishes of her father and laying him to rest just the way he had always wished, she establishes his personal sense of autonomy as eternally important.

As she bestrews his ashes in the murky blue waters off the town’s edge, a sense of closure comes across Marina’s mien. What better way to be a good daughter than to do whatever you can to make your loved ones happy, which in turn grants Marina personal contentment the highest form of salvation.

It’s important to watch movies that are off the beaten path, featuring a language unfamiliar to your ear and spotlighting a character whose personality and penchants divert from what you’re used to seeing on the silver screen. The solemn composure Marina carries from frame to frame is instructive: Calm in the face of strife is the best route to peace.

Contact Amalia Rizos at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Mikaylah Du
Mikaylah Du, Illustration Editor
Mikaylah Du is a first-year studying Media, Culture, and Communication. She's a fine art nerd and one of the few people that actually likes writing essays. Follow her art account on Instagram @mikaylahdoodles to see her post once in a blue moon.

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