Digger (2020)

Image via georgisgrigorakis.com

I can see what this austere drama from Georgis Grigorakis was trying to do and, for a first feature, it is well crafted and tonally interesting. Pitched as a David and Goliath battle between an everyman and a mining company and also, oddly as a ‘Western, revisited’, it didn’t quite achieve its aim.

There is a lot of silence in this film as we observe dour Al Pacino lookalike, Nikitas (Vangelis Mourikis), as he lives alone in a ramshackle hut in the mountains of Northern Greece. It is an odd kind of farm, buried deep in the forest where the boundary between nature and domestication is blurred. Relentless rain causes a mudslide that threatens his farm and it is only when we see him confront workers felling trees nearby that we realise how precarious his lifestyle has become.

Unannounced, a man arrives one night on a dirt bike and after lots of silence and belligerence, we learn that this is his son Johnny (Argyris Pandazaras), returned to claim his inheritance after the death of his mother. The bigger picture is the mining company that has bought up all the land in the area. The town is divided between those who have taken jobs with the company or sold their land and those who see the mine as a monster eating their land and way of life. Nikitas, of course, is firmly in the latter group whereas Johnny just wants to get some cash and go.

There is little light and shade in this story; the miners are bad and Nikitas is gruff but good. We expect that Johnny might be on track to learn something from his wise father, even if the battle against the monster is lost, and this is pretty much what we get. Some of the beats are predictable, some seem only to be done for the visual effect and a few plot contrivances feel, well, contrived.

A story that should be full of dramatic tension ends up feeling unenergetic and shallow. It moves at a glacial pace with little context and seems to believe that long silent scenes of a man going about his day is the equivalent of character development. I couldn’t help feeling that it was just a whole lot of self-absorbed, pugnacious men not listening to each other. The lack of empathy and communication was extraordinary, replaced by posturing and drinking – perhaps a reality of Greek masculinity?

The penultimate scene, where we understand the film title, is visually arresting and I could have forgiven this film many flaws if it had ended there. Unfortunately it adds a final, sentimental scene that undermines whatever pathos it had achieved.

And it has the worst poster I have seen in a long time:

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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