Digger review – family tensions are unearthed in slow-burn Greek drama

A corporate destruction project offers a symbolic backdrop for this poignant drama about a father-son relationship

Its plot featuring a giant mining corporation known as “the monster” tearing up the landscape and causing bitter division among the hard-drinking local populace, this handsomely shot drama could be taking place in rust-belt America. But this is backwoods Greece, where forest rancher Nikitas (Vangelis Mourikis), first seen fending off a landslide caused by the miners’ activities, is fighting a running battle to keep them from despoiling the haven he loves. A motorbike throttle at midnight announces the arrival of his estranged son Johnny (Argyris Pandazaras), whose need to claim his inheritance adds to the pressure on Nikitas to ship out.

With this father-son conflict, and a liking for contemporary imagery like Johnny’s motocross track to liven up the classicism, director Georgis Grigorakis in his feature debut makes a claim on the same kind of romantic-realist territory as Jacques Audiard.

Father and son are forced to cohabit in Nikitas’s forest cabin; their feuding starts small – he tries to make Johnny wear slippers inside – but gradually becomes inflamed by past grievances. Mourikis, looking like a skulking Leonard Cohen, coolly underplays the resentment and regrets until they explode at the corporate lackeys, like when they cut down his walnut tree.

It’s a shame that, as it ramps up, this generational tension isn’t dramatised with the sharpness it might have been. Johnny is more thinly drawn, leaving Digger over-reliant on Nikitas’s selfish idealism – and some occasionally on-the-nose scenes revolving around it. Luckily, Grigorakis’ breakdown of the town’s factions is more subtle. And he and cinematographer Giorgos Karvelas not only have an eye for striking visuals, but they know how to use them in amplifying counterpoint: the forest dells are filmed with the protective intimacy Nikitas feels for them, as against the shock and awe of the mining excavator’s behemoth teeth. A bracing backdrop for a world-weary but engaging film.

  • Released on 16 February on Mubi.

Contributor

Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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