It's a crappy time to live in Greece right now. But it's not so bad to be a Greek filmmaker. As economic austerity measures cripple the country, and the suicide rate has jumped 40%, a wave of bold, innovative films have been coming out of the country, of late, most notably from filmmakers Athina Rachel Tsangari, whose "Attenberg" opens this week in New York, and "Dogtooth" director Giorgos Lanthimos, whose latest "Alps" has been receiving critical acclaim on the festival circuit.
While the films pre-date the country's extreme financial duress, they reflect a profound sense of unease within the nation. When I spoke to Tsangari for this Village Voice story last year, she spoke with deep ambivalence about her homeland.
The film's central relationship between a father and daughter, for instance, goes beyond the director’s anthropological interest in human behavior and addresses broader questions of national identity. “In a way, [the daughter’s] connection with her dad represents my connection with what I perceive as Greece” said Tsangari, who “fled” the country when she was 19 and didn’t return until 12 years later. “I always felt like I didn’t belong.”
And yet, upon her return, she accepted a job, working of all places, for the Athens Olympics committee to create a kind of nationalist video project for the opening ceremonies. "The reason I accepted was because the rest of the team were all strange choices," she told me. "Greeks have a narcissitic relationship to their past. Our approach was to deconstruct that. And we made a point of doing things cheaply, as a political gesture. One of the reasons that Greek was bankrupt was tons of money was spent, and it was extremely important to us that we wouldn't spend tons of money to produce a spectacle."
While Tsangari says it took her two years to pick up a camera again after the Olympics and all of the "conflicting sentiments" it brought up, "Attenberg" doesn't display the kind of disturbingly perverse authoritarian patriarchy in "Dogtooth," for which Tsangari served as an associate producer. Rather, her views about her native country aren’t quite so grim. While elaborating on her complicated connection to her country, she aptly described her film as well: “It’s this sense of loving, but not being sure how to do something good with it—like this self-imploding, self-destructive pathos.”