DVDs Nuts

Lesser-seen, critic-approved films on disc and on demand

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The spiritual cousin of last year's Dogtooth, Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg is almost as strange and almost as engrossing in its strong, relevant look at the financially and socially ravaged Greece, told from the inside but through the wary eyes of immigrants Marina and her dying father Spyros. Like a Vonnegut story, there is no suspense about this: he will die, and she will be alone in the world, except for Bella, her exhibitionist best friend, who's teaching the sheltered Marina the things Spyros never could. In some ways she's as fresh as a robot learning to be human from Bella, whose lessons amount to casual whim and loose fancy: tongue kissing and silly, crotch-grabbing dances in place of emotions. Attenberg is hilarious in the dry-roasted sense, pulling smirks and giggles out of its incredibly painful awkwardness and deeply striking absurdities. It's a treat for those who can hang with it. (available now)
Special Features: Director interview

A Necessary Death

Before he directed 2010's underrated found-footage thriller The Last Exorcism, Daniel Stamm made this long-awaited indie meta-creeper about a student filmmaker (Gilbert John) and his attempts at making a documentary about suicide that will actually conclude with the subject's final act. What could have easily fallen into melodrama or grotesquery – Gilbert's very premise angers Internet trolls and school faculty alike – becomes an elegant examination of perception, particularly the taboo associated with self-inflicted death. And unlike Stamm's more mainstream recent effort, A Necessary Death even has a satisfactory ending. (Helpfully, the wrong way to end it is included in the bonus features.) (available now)
Special Features: Deleted scenes, alternate ending, audio commentaries

The Woodmans

Despite its cheeky, suburban mailbox of a title, veteran PBS director C. Scott Willis' documentary on the life and legacy of photographer Francesca Woodman, whose nude self-portraits gathered a cult following upon her suicide in 1981 at age 22, has a rumbling darkness underneath it that suggests not only the power of art, but of ambition. Raised ahead of the curve by committed artist parents who believe that working on art is the only worthy thing to spend a Sunday afternoon on, Francesca hit the art-school ground running, lapping her fellow students and even professors. But, as shown in her journal entries, she was impatient waiting for a success she felt disturbingly entitled to, and offed herself before she could really get started. Willis has a clear reverence for his subject, and he makes Mr. and Mrs. Woodman sympathetic where they could've easily seemed morbid. They feel no responsibility for her suicide, but then, they were awed by her talent and gave her the upbringing she required. Also, nothing about Francesca's writings around that time suggest her death was even slightly an emotional decision. It says a lot about the discipline behind the Woodmans – and the film itself – that unearned sentimentality is hardly welcome. (available now)
Special Features: none

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