Sunday, April 3, 2011

Attenberg; Shut Up Little Man! (New Directors/New Films)

The second and final day of my ND/NF sojourn (split up over two Saturdays) was much more uneven and much less revelatory than the previous one. I saw one very good feature, but the other film I saw and the two shorts that accompanied the two movies were rather poor.

Without further ado: I first saw "Attenberg" by Athina Rachel Tsangari, after the lame short "Match" by Kate Barker-Froyland (which took a weird manner in revealing information about the characters, as well as in concluding). To give you a good idea of what to expect from this film, it apparently stemmed from the question "Do you imagine me naked?" Tsangari said in her Q&A that her making of this film was finding out the parameters of this question: "to whom, and why?" It turns out to be Marina (Ariane Labed) asking her expiring widower father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), one of a couple of people who are in her life. Though his answer is one of disgust, this is not a conventional dad, as he is one inclined to scream and act like a wild animal right with his daughter. We are led to believe, as there is no mention of an sort of higher education, that Marina's reading, watching Sir David Attenborough (whose mispronounced name is the basis for the title) on TV, and acting crazy with her father is the only sort of upbringing that she's ever had.

Her only other contact in the world at the film's opening is a close friend named Bella (Evangelia Randou), whom she calls a "dirty slut." The two of them do outlandish shit, like spitting, riding around on motorcycles, walking arm in arm, and looking at their shoulder blades (in the film's most beautiful image). Bella also explains about sex to her, about "prick-trees" and how to French kiss effectively. It is an interesting and insightful look at the sort of friendship that leaves everybody else out, most prominently noted in a scene where the two lip-synch together to a song about loneliness, divided by a curb from the rest of their youthful cohorts. This is one of about three scenes in the film where we see other people besides the direct characters in the film, though in each the leads remain pretty much completely isolated. Tsangari mentioned her friendship with Giorgos Lanthimos, director of "Dogtooth," as "a partnership of two" and maybe that's where she got the inspiration to include this bond between Marina and Bella.

Lanthimos is also in "Attenberg" himself, as the engineer that Marina shuttles into town (which can only remind one of the father bringing in the woman for the son to have sex with in "Dogtooth"). The two of them will go on to intercourse themselves, but not before they have a discussion about their favorite Suicide songs, perhaps somewhat of a jab at the postmodernism peddled nonstop by Tarantino (which has ironically come in without a pop culture overload consumed).

I had some qualms with "Attenberg" on an ideological level (that I still mildly bear, but feel foolish bringing up just in case I'm way off base), and its lack of a cadence is understandably anti-establishment but also unfortunate. But other than those problems, it is a diverting and intelligent film. Like "Dogtooth," it's about how the "normal," especially sexually, isn't always quite so normal. It also has one of the least sentimental views of a person on their deathbed in a long time, yet it's anything but hard-hearted, due to Mourikis' very good acting. But the most impressive job is done by Labed, who is entirely deserving of the Best Actress award she won at Venice. She throws herself into this role, and the result of this intense devotion is an astonishing performance. The cinematography is also masterful, especially in its use of color (and, as my friend noted, its absence) and framing. All-in-all, "Attenberg" goes down easier than the suffocating "Dogtooth" (a companion piece of sorts), and I wouldn't mind seeing it again. B+

Despite its shortcomings, "Attenberg" of the films I saw is the one that seems most like it should have been saved for a higher, if you will, festival (perhaps the NYFF?). "Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure" by Matthew Bate from Sundance's US Documentary Competition, however, should have been rejected from even ND/NF, or else shown in an ironic, this-is-what-not-to-do sort of way. After I had just seen the documentary form totally trashed by the surreal and totally unrevealing nonfiction short"Fwd: Update on My Life" by Nicky Tavares (which strung bits of information incoherently together without anything explaining them), Bate's wall-to-wall use of completely cliche technique shows that we shouldn't hand over the medium to amateurs.

The film talks about how audio tapes made by two sleep-deprived (well, one of them isn't affected by it) San Fran émigrés of their neighbors began to circulate, acquire devoted listeners, and started to become material for plays, samples, and comic books. In the hands of a talented documentarian, maybe this would have been interesting, but instead, it fails to improve (I assume) on the experience of reading one of the many articles waved in front of the camera. We never hear/read/see any of the recordings or their spinoffs from beginning to end, which suggests either 1) the filmmaker assumes the audience has some degree of familiarity with them or 2) that there's really not much there.

For this film to be successful, it would have to be much more probing and a lot more succinct. Instead, we get bad and anachronistic dramatic re-enactments that are used over and over again due to a lack of authentic video. 85 minutes is a short running time, but it consists mostly of padding and thus one may confuse it for 170. The film claims to have some sort of heady ideological angle, but it comes off not only as more inflicting flab but also, as my friend and reviewers such as Nick Schager have pointed out, as crap. I thank the film for introducing me to this subject, but I can't give it much more credit than that, and can only say that sitting through it is a cinematic misadventure (apologies to Dane Cook). C-

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