Reviewed by James Karas
To the Wolf is a cross between a documentary and a fictional story shot in the mountains of western Greece, around Nafpaktia.The film is the brainchild and product of Aran Hughes and Christina Koutsospyrou who spent several months over two years in the mountainous village and filmed the locals as they went about their business. The people knew that they were being filmed but there was no script and no plot. The directors want to give their impression of the lives of these peasants in an atmosphere as gloomy as Hades.
In the few days that we spend with the families of two shepherds, Giorgos Katsaros and Adam Paxnis, and a few villagers, it rains incessantly and the only light we see is at dusk or in the bleakly lit interiors at night.From the mountainside where the villagers raise goats, sheep and cattle, we can see some spectacular vistas of mountains and gorges but Hughes and Koutsospyrou do not want to concentrate on that. This is not a National Geographic tour of the splendours of Western Greece.
The directors dwell on the faces of the peasants that are not so much old as mythical with skins that look as if they were ploughed. Were it not for some light bulbs and primitive plumbing, the interiors of the houses would resemble Homeric dwellings with primitive fireplaces burning a few logs. The men sit by the fire for warmth and smoke cigarettes that they rolled themselves.There are no young people to be seen anywhere. The village priest, looking unkempt and ancient, tells us that all the young people have escaped from the village and only the old are left behind.
The film touches on the financial crisis as the villagers speak of harsh economic conditions and hunger. The film was made before the economic crisis became critical and we can only assume that these people had a problem surviving even before that.The film does develop a sort of plot with the fate of Giorgos who cannot cope with the situation and Adam who is the eternal survivor. A dramatic scene is suggested and heard at the end of the movie but we are spared the gory details.
The movie is like a poem that depicts the dark sky, gloomy atmosphere and difficult life of people up in the mountains. Like a poem, the film gives us the impression of its makers and is not necessarily true in fact. The sun does rise, the sky does clear and the people of those villages laugh and enjoy life at least some of the time. Hughes’s and Koutsospyrou’s depiction of them is not intended to be a documentary representation but in the end, it is an incomplete image. If it were a painting depicting a bleak landscape with animals and ancient people leading miserable lives, it would be a convincing portrait. As a 74-minute film, it is only an interesting and not necessarily convincing snapshot of a moment in time in the life of these peole.