Sundance Reviews: “Attenberg,” “All Your Dead Ones”


In this more enlightened age in which we live, one resists the temptation to say all Greeks are alike, but damn if “Attenberg” doesn’t bring to mind “Dogtooth,” one of the best films of 2010.

“Attenberg,” from director Athina Rachel Tsangari, debuted as part of Sundance’s Spotlight selections. It was nominated for the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, with star Ariane Labed winning best actress. Labed plays Marina, a 23-year-old woman preparing for her father’s death from cancer. Oh, and she's never experienced sexual arousal. Her only friend is the “slutty” Bella (Evangelina Randou), with whom she practices kissing.

The film’s title is a riff on Attenborough, as in Sir David, whose nature films are an obsession of Marina’s. Like her favorite TV star, Marina is an observer of nature. But where Attenborough watches animals in the wild, Marina watches humans--from a distance. Marina engages in animalistic play-acting with both her father, Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), and Bella, be it jumping up and down like gorillas or hissing at each other like cats.

Like “Dogtooth,” “Attenberg” features a female whose emotional and sexual development is hopelessly stunted. And over the course of both films we watch those characters grapple with and ultimately break free from their bubble. But where “Dogtooth” is about the dangers of statism, “Attenberg” is about the dangers of being an observer of life as opposed to a participant.

“Attenberg” is not for everyone—it’s very avant garde, and at times just plain weird—but it’s a smart and funny look at human nature. If you’re into that kind of thing.

"All Your Dead Ones"

Carlos Moreno first came to Sundance in 2008 with his comic gangster tale, “Dog Eat Dog” (“Perro Come Perro”). He returns this year with another darkly comedic tale, “All Your Dead Ones” (“Todos Sus Muertos”), about a farmer who one day discovers a pile of 50 corpses in his cornfield.

It’s a great conceit, a very simple and clever way to explore the shortsightedness and venality of people, particularly those in power. Much of the humor owes a debt to Hitchcock’s “The Trouble With Harry,” but it would be unfair to dismiss “All Your Dead Ones” as derivative.

 “The film has a lot of black humor and deals with the position we take in the moment we are confronted with that kind of situation,” producer Edgar Ramirez explained to us earlier in the week. “It’s not only about what happens in Colombia, it’s about all conflicts. You hear every day, 200 people got killed in whatever place, and you get sorry for like 15 minutes and then your listening to the new Britney Spears song and you forget it because it’s not your people, it’s another person’s dead people.”

It’s a beautifully shot film, with a cool visual wit and Álvaro Rodríguez is great as “Crosseyed,” using his incredibly expressive face and silent-film-worthy physicality to the role. But much of the humor is torpedoed by atrociously translated subtitles that often require untangling, leaving the viewer a half-beat behind the action. Even the title is a tortured construction in English—“Todos Sus Muertos” may be perfectly reasonable phrase in Spanish, but no American would ever say, “Hey, come get all your dead ones.

“All Your Dead Ones” is very nearly great. With a nip and a tuck, and something other than Google Translate, it could’ve reached its potential. Anybody up for doing an American version?

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