Written and Directed by: #TsintzasPeriklis
The Judging Tree, a short Greek film directed by Tsintzas Periklis, is a fascinating and individual piece that leaves the viewer captivated. Through its use of artistic aerial shots and fantastic utilisation of the Greek countryside, the film is filled with intrigue and betrayal, all the while reaching high above expectations to deliver a powerful ending. If it were not for one significant flaw, Periklis’ production could have acted as a perfect introduction to Greek cinema for international audiences.
The film, based around fictitious legends surrounding a tree in rural Greece, follows the story of Nikos (Nikos Rafaelidis) and Anna (Olimpia Karakitsiou). Nikos, an ex-convict and alcoholic, bounces between jobs and the bottle, prone to fits of violent rage. Anna, his partner and mother to a young son (Aggellos Machairas), struggles between the challenges of caring for her son and the family farm, whilst facing both the rage and desperation of her lover. When threatened with repossession of the farm, Nikos takes it upon himself to save the farm and his relationship – by whatever means it takes.
With the Judging Tree, the nuance and skill of Periklis’ directing is apparent. His stylistic use of aerial shots, that pan across the simultaneously beautiful and barren Greek countryside, creates a tone and style to the film that is captivating. Likewise, he develops the core characters well; Nikos is shown to be a form of anti-hero, drawing empathy in his desire to protect the woman he loves whilst alienating the audience with his anger and self-aggrandisement.
In places, however, the seeming obsession of Periklis to the artistry of his film is championed at the expense of substance. Instances of violence feel slapstick and forced, whilst the introduction of some minor characters seems motivated more by a desire to represent the Greek setting than as a vehicle to the plot. Nonetheless, the direction and style of The Judging Tree makes it a pleasure to watch.
Such style is complimented well by the score. Background music is paired well with the tone of each scene; adding to the intrigue or action without overpowering it. The same cannot be said for the use of sound effects. Where the music compliments to the tone of the film, the sound effects actively contrast it. The use of a poor-quality recording of boots crunching on gravel, as one example, actively drags the viewer out of the suspense of the film, weakening the delivery of the subsequent scene. Though certainly in need of refinement, the use of sound effects does undermine what would otherwise have been a well-rounded score.
Such strong direction is only aided by the excellent performances of the core cast. Olimpia Karakitsiou’s performance as Anna is exemplary; evoking empathy and admiration in her character whilst retaining an edge of intrigue and mistrust. Likewise, Rafaelidis performs well as Nikos, delivering a convincing performance of a man bound by love, rage and vice. One criticism, however, would be the execution of multiple long stares into the distance; clearly intended to show his characters rage, but suggestive only of constipation. Whether this was down to Rafaelidis’ performance, or a rigid control of the actors’ bathroom schedule by Periklis, remains unclear.
Nevertheless, The Judging Tree remains a powerful and enjoyable film that will leave the viewer wanting more. Further refinement would, in nearly any other case, make this film near perfect. Yet the film is mired throughout by one major failing: the translation is appalling.
Perhaps this is unfair, or at least an under-appreciative critique. However, for those of us not well versed in the Greek language, international viewers rely on translation and subtitling to enjoy films from around the world. Seemingly, Periklis was so consumed with the style and delivery of the film, that he failed to account for the cost of good translation. At times with broken grammar, at times seemingly not matching the dialogue on-screen; the translation weakens the delivery of scenes that would otherwise have been powerful, and serves to alienate international audiences.
Overall, The Judging Tree acts as an exemplary entry point to both the direction of Periklis and wider Greek cinema. Both subtle and powerful, the artistic style and plot development is engaging and intriguing, matched by strong performances by Karakitsiou and Rafaelidis. It has certainly opened my eyes to the potential of Greek cinema to international audiences; though perhaps my next foray into the genre will be accompanied by a copy of Rosetta Stone.