Runaway Day: Sarajevo Review
First-time feature director Dimitris Bavellas turns the Greek financial crisis into a mystifying monochrome thriller about a mass exodus from Athens.
So far, Greek filmmakers have responded to their country’s ongoing economic troubles with either somber social realism or surreal black comedy. But this feature debut by writer-director Dimitris Bavellas puts an inventive new spin on the crisis, imagining it as the trigger for a mysterious mass desertion of citizens from Athens. Premiered in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival last week, Runaway Day is a bold idea that sadly runs out of inspiration midway through, leaving behind too many questions and too few answers. The film may cash in on its topical theme at further festivals, but interest rates are likely to be low among foreign investors.
It begins with a bitterly ironic joke, chirpy vintage newsreel from 50 years ago promoting Athens as “the economic capital of Europe.” But the tragicomic drama that follows has a more ambiguous, enigmatic, elusive tone. Maria (Maria Skoula) is a wife and mother who suddenly walks out on her rich tycoon husband Dmitris (Errikos Litsis) and marches off defiantly into the Greek capital. Her adventures there include visiting a seedy porn cinema and a creepy encounter with a stranger in an empty office building, which blurs the line between romantic fantasy and sexual assault. But she keeps going regardless, heading out through the suburbs towards the countryside beyond.
Meanwhile, unemployed Loukas (Efthymis Papadimitriou) pulls off a similar disappearing act, walking out on piled-up debts and family obligations. As the story broadens, these apparently random walk-outs are joined by a growing tide of escapees including schoolgirl Eve (Eva Vogli) and, later, even Maria’s husband Dimitris. Throughout the film, an increasingly heated news commentator rants from the TV screen about a pandemic of disaffected citizens abandoning their lives and fleeing Athens with no apparent motive.
Shot in warm, handsome monochrome, Runaway Day has the classy look of a timeless fable. It is also founded on a great premise, putting an allegorical spin on current events with a cryptic plot that recalls the cerebral end of 1970s dystopian science fiction. Climaxing at the Olympic Village built for the 2004 Athens games, now a crumbling ghost town overgrown with weeds, it seems poised to deliver some sharp social critique of contemporary Greek politics, capitalism in crisis, democracy debased.
But, disappointingly, Bavellas never fleshes out his strong set-up into a fully rounded narrative. The film’s second act becomes a replay of the first, with loosely connected characters wandering aimlessly away from the city. There are vague hints that these bewildered Athenians are craving a return to childhood innocence and the simple joys of nature, but nothing that adds up to a clear explanation or resolution. Even M. Night Shyamalan would have given us a lame quasi-religious pay-off at least. Too good an idea to waste, Runaway Day is a frustratingly undercooked debut, one of those rare European art films that leaves you hoping for a Hollywood remake to tie up all the loose ends.
Production companies: Vox Productions, 2/35, Sklavia Film Lab, Online Recording Masters
Producers: Gina Petropoulou, Sotiris Mitsios, Aggelos Argyroulis, Dimitris Bavellas
Starring: Maria Skoula, Makis Papadimitriou, Eva Vogli, Errikos Litsis, Yvonni Maltezou, Christos Stergioglou, Costas Staridas, Yannis Papadopoulous
Director: Dimitris Bavellas
Writer: Dimitris Bavellas
Cinematography: Yannis Fotou
Editor: Dimitris Tolios
Music: The Mongrelettes, The Smoking Barrels, George Ginis, George Boussounis
Sales contact: Petra Spanou, email@example.com
Unrated, 82 minutes