What wild and unnatural spirits exist in the depths of the forest, possessing an ancient and eternal power far beyond our reckoning? There’s an otherworldly quality to the woods, especially when they’re unfamiliar to you. When you’ve grown up in a certain area and have memorized the face of each tree and every bend in the river, it feels like home. But when you’re a stranger trespassing on the solitude of an unknown wood, you could swear the trees themselves try to make you lose your bearings.
In Entwined, Panos (Prometheus Aleifer) is a young doctor who has taken up the post of town physician in a sleepy, remote Greek village. It’s the sort of place where the old ways have hung on, and superstitions linger. There might be likelier places for mystical phenomenon to occur, but there can’t be many. When Panos happens upon a mysterious young woman seemingly in distress and chases her into the forest, it feels as though he’s walked directly into a Greek myth.
Danae (Anastasia Rafaella Konidi) lives with her old, incoherent father deep in the woods, in a cabin that feels like a place out of time. She speaks in a cadence centuries old, has a mysterious disease that gives patches of her skin the ragged appearance of tree bark, and seems to have a bizarre effect on the people she meets. Although his original intention is to rescue her, he finds himself strangely compelled to stay.
The longer he’s by her side, the more difficult it becomes to tear himself away. She has seemingly bewitched him, and he is both repelled by and drawn to her. But in some ways, she’s just as trapped, locked in a frenzied cycle of gathering wood and building up the fire in her cabin’s hearth, which she warns him must stay lit at all times.
Entwined is director Minos Nikolakakis’s feature debut, and he proves his competence by taking a simple story and telling it well. The subject matter is compelling but not overly ambitious and leans into familiar mythological territory. This helps him avoid biting off more than he can chew narratively speaking, a trap that many first-time filmmakers find themselves falling into. Gorgeous location shooting builds out the seemingly enchanted world of Entwined, and Nikolakakis’s visual style is dreamy and atmospheric yet unpretentious. He creates a would-be fairy tale that turns into a nightmare, but instead of veering into horror the narrative has a bittersweet, melancholic feel to it. The relationship between Panos and Danae is complicated and constantly evolving, both actors finding a richness to their admittedly disturbing dynamic that prevents it from feeling one-note and creates what is a deeply sad love story that was doomed from the start.
This is a very simplistic and self-contained narrative, and perhaps the one lingering question is whether it’s too slight, or indeed if it has enough substance in it to justify a feature-length film. It pulls it off, but only just, being careful not to overstay its welcome at a very slim 89 minutes. Entwined makes an attempt to establish a brotherly dynamic between Panos and his relative George (John De Holland, who also wrote the script), but it’s underdeveloped and seems as though it only exists for the convenience of the plot. There’s an argument to be made that Entwined could have added depth by developing more of a relationship with the village itself, but it’s also possible that doing so would have taken away from the isolation of the lone cabin in the woods, or created a bloated feeling by adding to the run time unnecessarily. But these are minor qualms, and take nothing away from the film, which is lovely. As it stands, Entwined is a dark and soulful interpretation of folklore, and an excellent calling card for a first-time director who has shown a great deal of promise.
(Screened at the Toronto International Film Festival)