Digger

 

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One of those rare debuts that immediately causes us to recognise a major new talent.

 
Digger

 

Digger starts with a pre-credit sequence so bold and so powerful that it amounts to a tour-de-force. That's all the more remarkable because Georgis Grigorakis who both wrote and directed this film is here making his feature debut. If, ultimately, I found myself questioning his writing skills and lowering my anticipated rating for this work accordingly, the directorial promise is impressively present throughout.

 

Digger is the story of a farmer in Northern Greece who, now in late middle age, lives on his own. This solitary man, Nikitas played by Vangelis Mourikis, is devoted to the land and to the very modest dwelling near a forest which has always been his home. Some twenty years earlier his wife, finding living conditions there too tough for her, had walked out on him taking their young son with her. It is only now that this son, Johnny (Argyris Pandazaras), returns and does so unexpectedly to announce that his mother is dead and that he is the heir to her share of the property. She had died with debts and because of that Johnny is keen that Nikitas should sell up and give him his inheritance in cash. As it happens there is an eager purchaser to hand. A mining company is developing the area (their presence a source of division among the locals who either deplore it or see it as a chance to move on) and the land owned by Nikitas is crucially needed as the planned site of a new roadway. But Nikitas is firmly opposed to selling.

 

It seems that initially Digger was promoted as a quasi-Western despite its setting but that seems wide of the mark. The central idea of a developer using threats against a reluctant vendor equates this with Aquarius (2016) and with the Chinese film just recently released here on Mubi, Dead Pigs (2018). What gives it an additional and different slant is the focus on the father/son relationship. It would have been no surprise to see Nikitas marked out as the unquestioned hero of the piece and to find Johnny emerging as its villain. But in the event Grigorakis chooses to be much more even-handed than that. Nikitas can be stubborn and unreasonable and as we get to know Johnny we are intrigued by our own uncertainty as to just what kind of a person he will prove to be.

 

Father and son are the dominating figures here, but the nearby villagers are convincingly if rather briefly portrayed. The film's admirable photography in colour and 'Scope by Giorgos Karvelas makes much of the rural beauty that is threatened but, just as the film refuses to be one-sided in its view of father and son, so too it is left open as to how inappropriate the proposed development for the area really is. What does seem clear is that the conflict between Nikitas and Johnny, sometimes softening and sometimes acute, is quite likely to end badly and to parallel the likely defeat of the father under pressure from the company. The personal drama in particular sees both father and son capable of going to extremes and extreme behaviour can carry with it a hint of absurdity (as witness certain films from Iceland such as the original Rams in 2015). Even so I find myself unable to regard Digger as a tragi-comedy despite having seen it described in those terms. For me it is a drama enhanced by the acting (the facial expressions of Mourikis are particularly telling) and by the brilliantly judged direction. So much so indeed that it seemed to have the potential to achieve the force of genuine tragedy. But in the event the tale winds up with a series of ironical contrivances and I felt that these quite lacked the credibility of what had come before. Just because I admired Digger so much up to that point, my disappointment was acute, but anyone who is able to take a different view of the closing sequences might well regard this as a masterpiece. Without any doubt at all, it provides ample evidence that Georgis Grigorakis is an artist and one with huge potential.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Vangelis Mourikis, Argyris Pandazaras, Sofia Kokkali, Theo Alexander, Michalis Iatropoulos, Vasilis Bisbikis, Pavlos Iordanopoulos, Antonis Tsiotsiopoulos.

 

Dir Georgis Grigorakis, Pro Athina Rachel Tsangari, Maria Hatzakou and Chrysanthi Karfi Koi, Screenplay Georgis Grigorakis, from a story by Georgis Grigorakis, Maria Votti and Vangelis Mourikis, Ph Giorgos Karvelas, Pro Des Dafni Kalogianni, Ed Thodoris Armaos, Music Michalis Moschoutis, Costumes Vassila Rozana.

 

Haos Film/Le Bureau/Faliro House Productions/FassB Filmproduktion-Mubi.
101 mins. Greece/France/Germany. 2020. Rel: 16 February 2021. Available on Mubi. No Cert.