Life in the isolated nooks of the Hellenic Pindus Mountains is affectionately portrayed in “The Grocer,” an engrossing if straightforward docu from scribe-helmer-producer Dimitris Koutsiabasakos. Traveling retailers Nikos and Sophia Anastasiou have been making the same trip into the mountains every week since 1980, ostensibly to sell fruit and vegetables, but as the pic beautifully suggests, the couple not only brings goods and news from the outside world into the remotest villages, but also provides services too numerous to mention, from making repairs to delivering special orders. A Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival audience-award win should ensure this “Grocer” travels widely.
Divided into four seasons, from winter to fall, the pic charts an annual cycle that the Anastasious have repeated for more than 30-odd years, as they leave from the city of Trikala, in central Greece, to travel into the southwestern part of the Pindus Mountains (which stretch from the Greek-Albanian border into the northern part of the Peloponnese). Their 45-mile trip is meant to bring the isolated villagers fresh fruits and vegetables, but as the film suggests, they also provide practical help with complicated appliances such as telephones and gas burners; offer a window onto the outside world; and impart a sense of rhythm to their customers’ otherwise monotonous lives.
Koutsiabasakos, whose 2006 fiction feature, “The Guardian’s Son,” was set in the same region, clearly wants to depict a vanishing way of life in the mountains, and approaches his subject with dignity, respect, a healthy dose of curiosity and an eye for the locals’ lovable eccentricities. When a customer grouchily complains he’s always the last one to be served and this eats into his siesta time, he unwittingly reveals to what extent the villagers’ lives are arranged around the weekly calls — which the Anastasious cheekily announce by loudly playing a tape of Greek folk music (the same since 1980) from the truck, so the locals can hear them coming from miles away.
Unsurprisingly, most of the customers are well beyond retirement age and often mention their children and grandchildren in the city; the youngest people onscreen are the Anastasious’ adult sons, Kostas and Thimios, who occasionally help out. On the surface, the docu simply follows the interactions in and around the truck as villagers come to buy things or stop to chat, but the larger socioeconomic context arises organically from the material. Apostolis Agroyannis’ nimble editing uses the passing of the seasons as a throughline, ensuring that favorite subjects pop up time and again to give updates on their lives, echoing what must be a familiar routine for the Anastasious.
Lenser Haris Farros keeps his camera close to the people and wisely prefers to highlight character detail over the oft-ravishing landscapes. Two montage sequences, set to an a cappella chant, showcase the Pindus people in painterly, portrait-like shots, adding a small dose of lyricism that only underlines how gritty, fragile and real the rest of the material is.