REVIEW: RUNAWAY DAY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DIMITRIS BAVELLAS / SCREENPLAY: DIMITRIS BAVELLAS / STARRING: MARIA SKOULA, EFTHYMIS PAPADIMITRIOU, ERRIKOS LITSIS, EVA VOGLI, CONSTANTINOS STARIDAS / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Without warning, all over Athens people are disappearing. Maria, a stifled housewife, and Loukas, unemployed and debt-ridden, are two amongst millions faced with the same uncertain future. Abandoning their responsibilities and venturing into the swiftly emptying streets of the Greek capital, they wander through the urban desolation in an aimless search for some meaning.
Science fiction doesn’t always have to be space flight, planet hopping, alien battling and time travel. Some of the best pulp sci-fi ever written, such as Philip K Dick’s short stories, aren’t considered so because of their fantastical themes, but because they hold up a dark mirror to the world in which we live, their events parallel to our everyday lives but outside our own reality to just enough of a degree so that we see our own inherent absurdity in their reflection.
Unlike most films dealing with the financial crisis in Greece that feature bleak social realism or grim black humour, Runaway Day instead imagines a world where years of economic meltdown and crippling austerity act as a catalyst for a mass exodus of the city. Driven to despair by their nation’s seemingly unsolvable problems, people have had enough and are simply just giving up.
A talking (or rather ranting) head on TV screens relates the increasing severity of the desertions, as people continue to disappear without explanation. The repeated refrain of “Is there something you all can do about this?” echoes the patronising rhetoric of governments whose citizens’ lives have been ruined by the financial mismanagement of the country: although they fucked up, their incompetence is somehow your fault and your responsibility.
After following the nominal protagonists on their somnambulist wanderings, events eventually come together at the Olympic Village built for the 2004 Games. Once a proud proclamation of Greece’s glory, it has now become a weed-choked wasteland heralded with chipped and faded stencilling at its entrance, signifying just how much a country can change over a decade when enough mistakes are made by those in power, and also juxtaposing nicely with the film’s opening vintage newsreel declaring Athens as “the economic capital of Europe.”
The monochrome palette and unfiltered lighting are intentionally evocative of '50s B-movies, but instead of rubber-suited aliens or badly made-up zombies, the oppressive force is instead Athens itself and the problems its populace face by virtue of simply living there, and thus self-exile becomes the only means of escape.
Short, slow and almost silent, but still possessing a loud and distinct voice, Runaway Day is a cathartic exorcism of frustration that asks many questions but offers no answers, ultimately leaving us in the same position as those it features.