Marina (Ariane Labed) is a twenty-three-year-old virgin who works as a taxi service for a local business in her Greek hometown. But although the idea of sex repulses her, she is curious about it, and is intrigued by the more promiscuous lifestyle of her best friend Bella (Evangelia Randou), an inquisitiveness which leads her to practice French kissing on her only to discover she's not too keen. She lives with her retired architect father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), but there are dark days ahead for him as he has contracted cancer - can Marina improve their relationship?
Director and writer of Attenberg Athina Rachel Tsangari was a producer on the Greek arthouse favourite of 2009 Dogtooth whose director acts here, and many came to this work having been impressed with that and hoping for more of the same, which they sort of received and sort of did not. Thus a more mixed reception met her efforts, though if you were one to gravitate towards characters who might as well be aliens from a different planet for all the connection they felt with their surroundings, then Marina would likely be your latest poster girl for that skewed point of view.
Really this was a study of how she related to three people in her life, her dying father with whom she forges a closer bond as if they were not parent and daughter but good friends instead, and her actual friend Bella who she has a rather brittle link to but they see eye to eye so like to be around each other regardless, then later on in the film and with lesser screentime Marina actually gets a boyfriend, although he's more someone she can try out the mysteries of sex on than someone she can open up and talk to - not that he appears to mind too much, preferring when she says the minimum anyway. If Tsangari's approach seemed cold, then she did muster up a reason or two for us to be watching.
The key to that being the name in the title, who referred to Sir David Attenborough, the famed television naturalist as mispronounced by Bella. He is Marina's idol, for when she watches his nature documentaries she can understand the world, and in that we can perceive this was precisely the lens through which we were meant to be observing her. So if this was a sort of nature documentary of its own, except as created as a fiction and concentrating on human beings rather than the animal kingdom, that dispassionate air the lead character took to her life made a lot more sense than it would have if you dismissed her as a weirdo who would never get on in that frame of mind.
The manner in which her tale was arranged was in episodic nature, with longer passages broken up by Marina and Bella apparently staging their own version of the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks, or something more musical, for example the tracking shot where the girls sing along to a Françoise Hardy tune only they can hear, judging by the non-reaction of the youths along the side of the road they're advancing down. The trouble was that with such a distant protagonist the whole movie might come across the same way, so you might tire of her ruminations and antics long before the end: if you're not really interested that she is fascinated by but does not lust after breasts, or that she enjoys behaving like a gorilla or some other creature, then it's safe to say you were not going to get along with Marina. As she grows closer to the end of her father's life and realises that she will be losing someone important, she does warm up and Attenberg turns more poignant, but you had to meet this halfway to be moved.