Athens, 2018. 44% of youth are unemployed. A generation lost in a no man's land, wandering outside the classroom and labour market amid a booming sharing economy and gentrification. Five youngsters avoid waiting for an empty future by seeking entertainment in the luxurious Airbnb establishments that one of them is cleaning for a meagre fee. On the rooftops, they look out over a city in turmoil, daydreaming about a world of possibilities.
Athens often is perceived as the ideal holiday destination. It is the birthplace of democracy, overflowing with culture, and has exceptional cuisine and countless picturesque squares to spend time carelessly. This, however, isn’t the image the five twentysomethings in Waithood have of the Greek capital. For them, Athens feels like a prison where they are forced to kill time together. Christos, the only one in the group with a stable job, cleans up luxurious Airbnbs. When the tourists leave, he and his friends take over the apartments. And then the waiting takes over. Christos and his friends are insecure about their future. Waithood refers to the stagnation recent graduates can find themselves in, especially in economically challenged regions. In 2018 a staggering 44% of Athens’ young adults were unemployed. These numbers don’t grant much hope for anyone wishing to start a life in the capital. As a consolation, Christos, Yannis, Maro, Viky, and Jacques infiltrate these holiday houses. Just like the countless tourists Athens welcomes daily, this group wants nothing more than to escape everyday life. This escapism never lasts long enough. As soon as Christos finishes his job, reality comes knocking at the door, and the group is once more expelled out of the luxury and back into the streets.
To emphasise the intimacy and connection of the group, the camera follows them closely, frolicking on rooftops, plunging into private pools, and lounging in the couches and beds of the Airbnbs. The flats offer a different perspective on their city and their lives in it. Quite literally so. These bird’s eye looks on Athens are quite disorienting for those in vulnerable positions. These luxurious places are only available to them through their friend’s cleaning job. It is in these transitional spaces that they take on an observant role. Looking at a liminal, ill-defined, melancholic phase in their lives: growing up. Jacques’ character, in particular, is uncomfortable. He talks about leaving the city in search of better things. A choice that would require him to leave his friends, partner, and safe surroundings. The film does an apt job of playing with the tension between the known and unknown, the estranging.
In choosing to have Christos clean Airbnbs—a system known to be a blessing for tourists and a curse for people living in the city—the narrative ironically underscores the precarious situation of the youngsters. One scene shows the friends watching television after a night partying in an Airbnb. On the screen, they see images of protests in the capital, making the filmic manifestation of the unemployment crisis even more real. We do not get treated to images of a vibrant Athens. We see empty streets, lost children, a man carrying the front of a car, and two handymen working at a sun-shield. We get shots of an elderly couple scavenging in a bin, looking for something they could use, and images of groups of men in the gym trying to maintain their pride. This is the reality Waithood introduces us to. No holiday snapshots of Athens, but a real city serving as a limbo for the five protagonists.
The film gains expressiveness in her final scenes. Tightly edited montage sequences show us bits of protesting people, with batons and flags floating past the dark facades of Athens. Young people silently find solace in each other. Outsider Jacques walks alone, head bowed, thinking of the life-altering decisions he has to make. Waithood is not a direct objection against social injustice. Rather it unveils the complex reality of the twentysomethings in Athens. Their futures undoubtedly would look different had they grown up in other places. The film offers a personal portrait of an entire generation, carried out with respect that almost makes the insecurities and questions of these kids palpable.