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Death In Athens, Ignoring God, And Whores On Film: Week Two At Raindance Film Festival

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

by Ge Allan


Raindance Film Festival has returned to London for its 27th year for another round of indie features and shorts showcasing new and emerging cinematic talent. In our second week round-up for the best releases from the festival, Ge Allan reviews three of this year's award winners.

'The Waiter' (2018) - dir. Steve Krikris

Winner of Best Director was Steve Krikris of the much-anticipated The Waiter. Incredibly, the film is based on an event experienced in New York by Krikris, whose neighbour was found cut into pieces. This dark tale tells of Renos, a lonely waiter seemingly content in his repetitive life of smoothing his immaculate hair and buttoning starched white shirts. However, Renos soon discovers his neighbour Merlin’s tattooed hand in the trash disposal of his apartment block. With the arrivals of a slimy, suited man claiming to be feeding Merlin’s cat, as well as his intriguing partner Tzina, Renos gets drawn into a dangerous web of murder and deceit.

The story is simple yet well executed, largely thanks to Krikris’ flair and cinematographer Giorgos Karvelas, as well as the impressive lead, Aris Servetalis. His presentation of a character so solemn and unresponsive, yet capable of portraying such a range of barely-perceptible emotions from his turned down mouth and blank expression, is wonderful. His droll blankness as he reels scientific knowledge of how much weight is needed to sink a body is darkly comic and hugely endearing.

A still from the 2018 film, The Waiter, directed by Steve Krikris. The main character portrayed by Aris Servetalis talks to a long-haired man facing away from the camera in a restaurant. Aris' character is dressed as a waiter.
Still: The Waiter (2018) dir. Steve Krikris

It’s also an endlessly stylish piece. Everything in the production design is chosen with precision, from the green walls covered in delicate plant studies in Renos’ apartment, to the marble and gold trim classical dining room where he works. Shot in an unrecognisable Athens, we could be in 1980s Soviet Europe with a design so clear and devoid of modern technology. The haze of the cinematography is hugely reminiscent of Tomas Alfredson and much of the film's tension comes from the same mystery and ominous threat inflected in the stillness of characters in their surroundings.

While the film seems to lose some of its gas towards the end, it is a very accomplished mystery and remains hugely watchable. Renos is so frustratingly inactive at points, but frighteningly reactive at others, which is what makes for such tension. A compelling watch, with dark comedic hints of Krikris’s contemporary Yorgos Lanthimos, yet not quite as weird and wonderful, Krikris’ style feels like it is waiting to be viewed by more people.

'Oray' (2019) - dir. Mehmet Akif Büyükatalay

A similarly anticipated film which unfortunately left without awards was Oray, a slice of modern German social realism drama, with hints of the Dardenne brothers except with less punch.

The titular lead, Oray, has spent time in prison but is now a reformed, (relatively) devout young Muslim. He lives with his wife Burcu but a playful fight escalates to Oray shouting ‘talaq’ three times to her over the phone. Doing so in certain Muslim sects means instant divorce, something which you cannot take back and means your wife is now haram - forbidden.

Oray panics, seeking guidance from a local imam who says he must separate from his wife for three months, so he ups and leaves to Cologne. Burcu is furious. "Ignore God!" she screams at him as he leaves and creates a new temporary life.

Much of the film then follows Oray and his new found community at a Cologne mosque with other young Turkish Muslims. But his conscience weighs heavy upon him. He knows he truly said talaq three times but lies and says it was only once, a less severe sentence but one he must still commit to. As Burcu returns to his life and realises his grave mistake, he slowly falls apart.

The film raises many interesting points; a seemingly benign moment of anger turns into a life-altering dealbreaker for Oray. It becomes so huge that he betrays himself and others. His faith is so dear that he is willing to lose everything. What is great about the film is the care it gives its characters.

A still from 2019 film Oray, directed by Mehmet Akif Büyükatalay. A group of Muslim men sit around a table drinking tea and reading the Quran.
Still: Oray (2019) dir. Mehmet Akif Büyükatalay

Although we may not understand why this word is so important, we’re not dismissive of Oray’s plight. We are instead presented with human for whom faith is a part of their being but isn’t their whole. Community, and the ability Oray has to gather like-minded people wherever he goes, is an important theme to the film - even when religion is perhaps the only glue holding them together.