Though beautiful and rooted in deep potential, a lackluster story and underdeveloped characters keep “Entwined” from blossoming into something greater.
Greece has a rich cinematic history, and though it hasn’t made as much of a mark on the international film scene in recent decades as it has in the past, the allure of Greece’s creative output remains as timeless as ever. First-time feature length film director Minos Nikolakakis makes his entry into the annals of Greek artwork with his fable Entwined, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019.
A young doctor, Panos (Prometheus Aleifer), accepts a position as a country doctor in a remote Greek village. Despite some palpable hostility from the locals, as well as repeated petitions from his half-brother George to reconsider, Panos is determined to bring modern medical care to the small town.
Inevitably, Panos has some difficulty getting his practice off the ground, leaving him plenty of time to stare at his empty office and ponder the mysterious girl in white who jumped in front of his car before disappearing into the forest the night of his arrival.
One day, he ventures into the woods outside of town and finds the object of his curiosity.
The woman named Danae (Anastasia Rafaella Konidi), he learns, has been living deep in the forest in a hovel with her elderly father. Panos becomes determined to help the woman, who is clearly cut off from civilization and appears to be suffering from a strange skin disorder that leaves tree bark-like patches over her body.
After his second visit, a confrontation results in the accidental death of Danae‘s father, and Panos offers to stay with her and provide comfort. It only takes one night before Panos finds himself trapped in her world, both physically and emotionally. As their relationship deepens, Panos is increasingly ambivalent about his new life amongst the trees, longing to return to the real world but also entirely enraptured by his magical bond with Danae.
Over time, however, as his health and sanity start to slip, Panos comes to understand the true cost of loving Danae.
Entwined is, in essence, a modern rendition of a very old story.
In ancient Greek mythology, dryads were a variety of tree nymph, which were young female deities known mainly for their beauty and close connection with nature. Nymphs could be found in countless Greek sagas, often depicted as the mothers and consorts of greater deities like Hermes and Apollo. As Christianity eventually overtook paganism, the once revered pantheon of gods and goddesses drifted into the realm of folklore and superstition.
In the more modern rural folktales, nymphs went from respected envoys of the natural world to mischievous and beguiling seductresses who often lured children and young men to their doom.
Entwined cannot really seem to decide which version of nymph it endorses. Danae does embody a sort of elegant innocence and spiritual link to the earth that would seem at home in any ancient epic, yet the predatory soul-sucking temptress who entices and abducts young men is hardly true to the spirit of the classical world’s benevolent forest nymphs.
There is a thinly veiled misogyny in the persistent old succubus trope, which I admit was hard for me to look past in order to appreciate the broader story. Misogynistic misgivings aside, the film paints an enticing portrait of a magical world that exists just beyond the trees…at least at first. By the end, however, that world reveals itself to be nothing more than a hollow stump.
Though the film certainly had potential, there were a lot of untapped opportunities that could have made it something more.
Giving Danae an actual range of emotional expression and humanity would have helped counteract the outdated portrayal of mystical femininity, but her existence never extends to anything beyond mere symbolism.
Meanwhile Panos’ motives are often even more incomprehensible than Danae’s, and just a few more crumbs of a backstory would have gone a long way to flesh out his character. Panos’ brother George, played by screenwriter John De Holland, is perhaps the most puzzling figure of all, and his sporadic appearances seem to suggest either a hastily added side plot, or just the existence of some extra scenes left on a cutting room floor somewhere.
The film certainly has moments of visual beauty, but cultivating a more fairytale-like atmosphere with some creative editing could have done a lot to transcend its plodding storyline. Even just offering up some kind of moral to the story, as most myths and fables do, could have elevated the project to something more worthwhile, but I’m honestly still scratching my head wondering what it all meant.
On the surface, it seems like there might be some message about nature versus science, the old ways versus the new ways, but the point is never clear or consistent.
At times the story feels like it could be an allegory for abusive relationships, and perhaps succeeds in giving voice to the still taboo portrayal of male domestic abuse victims, which unfortunately remains easier to tell via metaphor.
Still, I may be grasping at straws, wishing that the film was more of a masterpiece than it is. And maybe it’s one of those films that demands repeat viewings, though I don’t know if my attention span is up to the task.
In the meantime, I give the film 2 and a half butterflies, and I hope that the clearly talented Nikolakakis brings a more complete final draft to his next project.