To the Wolf (Sto Lyko): Berlin Review

To The Wolf Still - H 2013

To The Wolf Still - H 2013

A stark portrait of rural poverty in modern Greece.

First-time directing duo dramatizes effects of financial crisis on a remote Greek mountain village.

BERLIN - High on a hill lives a lonely goatherd in this bracingly austere Greek docudrama. A whole community of goatherds, in fact, who seem to share a purgatorial realm of grinding poverty and near-constant rain in a remote mountainous region. A feature debut for its co-creators, Greece’s Christina Koutsospyrou and Britain’s Aran Hughes, this experiment in “ethno-fiction” has just premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. To The Wolf is a rambling endurance test at times, but with high-minded intent and an agreeably gritty aesthetic. Further festival outings seem likely, though theatrical interest will be niche at best for such an arty, uncompromising glumfest.

Shot in stages over two years, with a cast of real shepherds and farmers essentially playing themselves, To The Wolf began as an improvised DIY project before evolving into a thinly veiled commentary on the Greek financial crisis. Koutsospyrou and Hughes applied the tricks of fiction to non-fiction, compressing four months of shooting into four days of screen narrative, and only filming interiors on sunny days in order to maintain the illusion of permanent rainfall. They gave light-touch direction to their non-professional cast, but mostly just filmed them being themselves.

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The freeform, fragmentary plot is less a coherent story than a collective still-life portrait of a dying community, their faces carved from granite and scarred by poverty, drunkenly cursing the government in faraway Athens and yearning for the kind of order once imposed on Greece by right-wing military juntas. The default protagonist is Giorgos Katsaros, a hard-drinking shepherd who shares a cramped cottage with his parents Ilias and Spiridoula. Adam Paxnis and his wife Kiki also feature heavily, a fractious elderly couple who only break off their habitual bickering to debate the merits of catching and eating a hedgehog.

To The Wolf contains both apocalyptic melancholy and bleak humor, plus an imposing backdrop of savagely beautiful mountain scenery. But, alas, not much actual drama. Koutsospyrou and Hughes have the seeds of a fascinating social document here, but their observational material is too loosely shaped to offer viewers more than open-ended snapshots and mildly voyeuristic poverty porn. Still, this is a commendably original debut effort which suggests the young duo have plenty of future potential.

Venue: Berlin Forum screening, February 9

Production company: French Kiss Productions

Producers: Julien Mata, Alice Baldo

Cast: Giorgos Katsaros, Ilias Katsaros, Spiridoula Katsarou, Adam Paxnis, Kiki Paxni

Directors: Christina Koutsospyrou, Aran Hughes

Screenwriters: Christina Koutsospyrou, Aran Hughes

Cinematographers: Christina Koutsospyrou, Aran Hughes

Sales company: French Kiss Productions, Beziers, France

Unrated, 74 minutes