Yet the driving force behind Attenberg is far more deconstructional than that of a documentary. Through Tsangari's naturalist lens, love-making is reduced to mating, lust becomes 'admiration' and tongues are like 'slugs' when Marina and Bella experiment with kissing in the opening scene - 'you're all slobbery. I'm going to throw up'. There is a childlike naiveté to Marina's actions, and a kind of alien fascination for her own species: 'how do people do it?'. As her father Spyros slowly dies, Marina explores (with varying degrees of success) the secrets of the human body. Ultimately the film presents us with sex and death, two essential aspects of human existence: both of which Marina originally rejects and then slowly, oh-so-awkwardly engages with.
It's the kind of film I imagine Samuel Beckett would love if he was still around. Attenberg is fragmented and saturated with postmodern pessimism, and even the things-are-so-bad-they-can-only-get-better optimism that we are left with at the end of the film isn't particularly encouraging.
Marina is left to deal with the approach of the new century without Spyros, self-described as a 'toxic remnant of modernism'. The film is very minimalist, and the set is stripped down to blank white walls and hypnotically revolving lawn sprinklers. Marina flatly articulates her desires (or lack of them) and dislikes in a completely dysfunctional manner - her blunt logic matches her clinical surroundings which stick out uncomfortably against the natural beauty of the Greek shoreline. Tsangari likes to dwell on the silences and music is rationed, with lyrics hand-picked for impact: in one of the more emotional scenes, Marina beats along to American band 'Suicide' with 'it's a song about life, real life'.
Tsangari creates a strange, isolated world where the lens is simply pointed at the actors and we are left to stare. We see Marina and her father playing around on the bed together, chattering and squawking or beating their chests. Without the heart-warming soundtrack or explanatory narrator that we so often crave in nature documentaries, the action spirals into the strange and abstract. In fact, the only real narration we get in the film is Marina's arbitrary outbursts, and the inventory of her feelings during sex with the engineer until he begs her to stop. We engage most with 'humanised' animals like dolphins or monkeys - and the animals in 'ATTENBERG' deliberately keep their distance, refusing to indulge the audience. In the 'Ministry of Silly Walks' scenes, Marina and Bella mince down the pavement in matching clothes, put their hands between their legs and thrust at the camera. They spit out of windows together, and waddle like penguins together. It's intentionally startling, and I feel uncomfortably voyeuristic.
And Tsangari takes it further. We see Bella's breasts, and then Marina's hands on them. We watch Marina repeatedly and mechanically flexing her double-jointed shoulder blades. Penises are described as animals, or as fruit that grows on trees. Tsangari thrives on this abstraction, and she methodically maps the unsophisticated, perhaps even (is it too obvious?), 'animal' behaviours of the human specimen.
Personally, I'm not sure I like the film, despite the fact that it's refreshingly challenging and unpredictable – there's a fantastic honesty to the characters and their interactions, especially between Marina and Spyros. Tsangari dares the audience to call her characters dysfunctional, and although I think I already have, admittedly post-film I did wonder how I would be perceived under the naturalist's gaze. I'd probably come across as fairly 'weird', just like so many infamous reality-TV 'celebrities', and that's the crux of 'ATTENBERG'. But the film is so deliberately detached and insular that it is almost unapproachable, and I lack Attenborough's empathy for his subjects, and his ability, as he puts it, of 'escaping the human condition' when he exchanges a glance with a gorilla. Attenborough is liberated by his encounters with animals, but Tsangari's efforts leave me slightly cold. Perhaps I should try jumping around on my bed and beating my chest more.