Vangelis Mourikis, Senol Mat, Emily O’Brien-Brown, Emmanuela Costaras, Rachel Kamath, Tottie Goldsmith
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The Taverna is a true delight, from beginning to end.
If ever there was an unsung hero of Australian cinema, it’s Melbourne-based writer/director Alkinos Tsilimidos. Ever since his punch-to-the-face adaptation of Ray Mooney’s play with his 1994 debut Everynight…Everynight, Tsilimidos has been quietly plying his trade with an admirable and near extraordinary lack of compromise. His small but impressive body of work – Silent Partner, Tom White, Em 4 Jay, Blind Company – consists entirely of rough-cut gems, tough films about tough subjects that rarely see the light of day in local cinema. He is an auteur in every sense of the word, with every film a strong personal statement, made in collaboration with others but unmistakably the work of one filmmaker. The Taverna, however, sees Tsilimidos making a surprising left turn, and it’s an utter joy. Eschewing darkness (though a little still creeps in) in favour of warmth and light, this is a beautiful work about community, friendship, family, loyalty, and eccentricity, all set within the slightly shabby walls of a Greek restaurant in Melbourne’s suburbs.
Shambling, funny and charming, Kostas (veteran Greek actor, Vangelis Mourikis, who starred in the festival hit, Chevalier) runs his restaurant with anything but an iron fist, constantly exchanging friendly banter with his chef, Omer (Senol Mat), his waitresses Jamila (Rachel Kamath), Katerina (Emmanuela Costaras) and Sally (Emily O’Brien-Brown) and kitchen hand Samir (Salman Arif). But on one night, everything seems to go chaotically wrong. Jamila’s boorish ex-husband (Peter Paltos) turns up with his new flame (Tottie Goldsmith), prompting her to pull the pin on her belly-dancing duties for the night. Wannabe actress Sally dons the gear and learns the moves instead, which sets in course a chain of unfortunate but very funny events. Kostas’ drug-addled son (Christian Charisiou), meanwhile, hovers on the edges, always making trouble for his big-hearted father.
Evoking the same kind of feel as hospitality faves Big Night and (the under-appreciated) Dinner Rush, The Taverna hustles, bustles and bubbles with the unmistakable rhythms of real life. Like all of Tsilimidos’ films, there’s poetry here too, but these people – all loveable, but all flawed – look and feel like they could be working the pans or charming the customers at a suburban Greek restaurant. The performances are absolutely superb across the board, but the majestic Vangelis Mourikis rides above it all, literally oozing charisma as the establishment’s tarnished saint of a godfather. It’s a great, great performance, likely necessitating a satellite cross to Greece come AACTA Awards time.
Vangelis Mourikis might be the on-screen hero, but Alkinos Tsilimidos is the off-screen master, crafting a gorgeously characterised film rich with humour, humanity and warmth. The Taverna is a true delight, from beginning to end. As Kostas would say to his customers with a crumpled flourish, “Bravo!”