One night in a local taverna and the owner is banking on a lot of customers due to the fact he has a belly-dancer appearing. But when the belly-dancer’s personal problems interfere they must suddenly train one of the waitresses to take her role.
If somebody asked me to write out a list of my top five film directors of all time one name that is guaranteed to make that list would be Australian filmmaker Alkinos Tsilimidos. Over twenty-five years into his career and Tsilimidos is yet to make a bad film, while masterpieces like Em 4 Jay and To White sit proudly on his resume. Now comes Tsilimidos interesting newbie – The Taverna.
Set in a tavern that he himself knows very well Tsilimidos’ tale follows one night of work in the life of the restaurant’s owner Kostas (Vangelis Mourikis – The Wake). It is supposed to be a busy but smooth night. The taverna’s resident belly-dancer Jamila (Rachel Kameth – Jack Irish) has the restaurant full but all the best laid plans go out the window when her personal life suddenly clashes with her work life.
Suddenly wannabe actress Sally (Emily O’Brien-Brown – Neighbours) is having to be the night’s belly-dancing entertainment while more personal problems beset the staff at the tavern while Kostas tries to keep everything running smoothly while also making sure the rich and well-connected Rebecca (Tottie Goldsmith – Housos) is kept happy.
The plot behind The Taverna is simple but I found it extremely entertaining. Tsilimidos’ script expertly mixes comedy and drama without ever allowing one to overshadow the other. The result is a film that does provide the odd laugh here and there but also allowing some moments of true drama as some of the characters face some of the most emotionally draining nights that they are ever likely to endure.
Throughout the film I couldn’t help but notice the naturalistic feel that Tsilimidos’ filmmaking magic is able to capture. This naturalistic feel is something that is often foreign to cinema and is more reminiscent as something you would feel while watching a modern day theatre classic. That feel is largely enhanced by the fact that Tsilimidos shot the film using just his local tavern as the set although I feel that the fact that he has also included characters that you may run into on any given day in Melbourne.
I also found myself caring for the characters at hand very quickly and that largely comes from the fact that despite a lack of star-power The Taverna is full of some amazing acting performances. Like the character he portrays Mourikis leads by example with a strong and presence-driven performance while young guns Rachel Kamath and Emmanuela Costaras (Killing Time) announce themselves as talents with bright futures ahead of them.
The skills of the cast are well and truly shown as they go from cracking a comedic one-liner one moment and then finding themselves in a suspenseful scene where a character is making a life-changing decision the next. Not once does the cast ever slip-up and I strongly believe that this is one of the best ensemble casts I have seen in Australian cinema over the past few years.
Once again Alkinos Tsilimidos has driven an absolute gem in Australian cinema. No film has ever captured Melbourne’s restaurant culture quite like The Taverna while I found the characters at hand so interesting I would love to see the movie be followed up with a television series that continues to explore their lives. Funny yet dramatically suspenseful The Taverna could well be one of the sleeper hits of 2020.