Georgis Grigorakis's Digger is showing exclusively on MUBI in many countries starting February 16, 2021 in the series Festival Focus: Berlinale.
The spark for the story is the character of Nikitas, a man who lives and works alone in the heart of a beautiful mountain forest. He battles with an industrial Monster that eats away the land he is on, threatening his property, but more importantly his way of life. He can’t leave this place as all he has is associated with it and he continues living there under constant threat. The forest protects him, and he protects it. Is he a man consistent with his values, who takes it to the end to support his life choices? Or an obsessive, who denies the dead end and suffers because of his inability to change. Does truth lie somewhere in the middle?
Every truth is half a truth. It’s is a universal law of nature. This two-fold dimension of human nature and nature itself is what the film sets to dig throughout the narrative. It explores the contrast in perspectives and scales. A tree against a forest. The individual against the social. The contrast between those who are uprooting for profit and those who are looking for their roots. The contrast between tragedy and comedy. Nikitas’s name means win and loss. In the end, he wins by losing, a reverse catharsis.
The contrasting point of view to the main protagonist comes with the sudden arrival of his young son, Johnny, who returns after a twenty-year separation and becomes Nikitas’s biggest threat. The quest of Johnny for his father, and their archetypical conflict is at the center of the narrative. Father and son confront each other head on and dig into unstable ground to resurrect their wrecked relationship. Johnny needs to (re)connect with his father and his father's land, as an attempt to connect with his roots, his past and therefore with his future. The father-son relationship, as well as the relationship between man and nature is sacred, in the sense of respect, knowledge, care and responsibility.
The forest is the third protagonist. It interferes and contributes to the result of the main conflict, giving the most unexpected resolution. The actual location also played a leading role during our demanding and dangerous shootings on the 1.300 meters mountainous terrain of Northern Greece. The morning mist, the piercing cold. Rain, snow and mudslides. Huge diggers and blast explosions in mines producing suffocating dust. There were days that the forest determined when, where and how to shoot; we just had to follow. And when we followed, it rewarded us. This is how things should really be: human desires must adapt to what “the landscape” allows.
It has become imperative to connect human stories with the stories of this planet. The overexploitation of earth’s natural resources, neglecting environmental issues for short term profits creates an imbalance with our environment, which is reflected in the imbalance of human relationships. There are many cases around the world where industrial corporations divide the locals between those who care about nature and those who care about profit. It is interesting that only in the Native American culture, people are not divided but united against such industries, as they treat nature as sacred, creating a common understanding that water, air and the earth should be clean and public.
Land ownership, family legacy, social tension and violence allure to the idea of a western, so we put the story in this context, and played with some elements of the genre. The aesthetic of the abandoned countryside of the Balkans, the rough and unfriendly looks of people living there, is also reminiscent of a western feel.
The intention though, is to subvert the Western elements the story tackles. It is told from the point of view of the natives who love their land, and not of the cowboys ‘looting’ the land. Our lonely guy who lives like an outlaw with his horse and his shotgun is rooted obsessively and doesn’t move an inch, in contrast with the old cowboys, who move around all the time. The landscape is not hot and dry, but humid and cold. More importantly and against the western stereotypes, manhood is negotiated by the ability to step back, give and expose one’s sensitivity and not only by being tough and dominate. The inability for both male protagonists to connect is partly due to the loss of a dear woman and they fight about who is hurt more from that loss. The absence of female characters is giving emphasis on male fragility.
Digger can be seen as a dark and tender anti-hero neo-western for the relationship of two riders, one with a horse, the other with a motorbike, who dig into mud to find a common ground. And when the digging begins, the inner landscape of the characters becomes boiling hot. People, nature and machines get to take turns being the enemy and the savior.