Reviewed by James Karas
Director Tonia Mishiali’s Pause is the second Greek-language movie streamed by the 2020 European Union Film Festival. It Cyprus’s contribution the the Festival.
Pause is a sensitive, moving and almost relentless study of a woman at the end of her rope. We meet Elpida (Stella Fyrogeni) in a doctor’s office with her legs up on stirrups being examined. The doctor (Marios Ioannou) recites some of the symptoms of menopause some of which are memory lapses, mood disorders, vaginal dryness, loss of sexual desire and perhaps some others. Elpida may be too young for menopause and the movie indicates that if she has any of these ailments they are not from menopause.
Elpida is disheveled, her hair is a mess, she wears no makeup and her face expresses misery, anxiety, pain, hopelessness and the image of a woman on the verge.
|Stella Fyrogeni in the doctor's office|
Elpida wants to colour her hair, get a computer or have money for gas. The answers to all these requests are negative and insulting. He even sells her jalopy of a car leaving her with no choice but to walk everywhere including the supermarket.
Elpida seeks an escape from the prison. She finds a “lover,” a house painter named Andrey (Andrey Pilipenko). She takes up some painting and attempts to run away. She gets dressed up, packs a suitcase and confidently walks away. But she returns. When Costas becomes unbearably obnoxious, she tosses a plate of food in his face. She goes out with her friend Eleftheria (Popi Avraam) and has fun at a disco.
The issue here is which, if any, of these events are real as opposed to illusions borne out of her desperation?
Mishiali gives us some hints but mostly she wants us to figure things out for ourselves. The day after she meets the painter, she finds a hickey on her neck and covers it up with makeup. We can assume that Andrey did it. But there is a subsequent car trip with him, and we may be certain that she is just imagining it?
For her outing to the disco with the appropriately named Eleftheria, Elpida puts on makeup, they drink and sing and find a few moments of happiness. Reality or illusion?
Mishiali in her expert directing provides few exterior scenes and the background is frequently blurry. There is no sense of location in the film except for the interior of Elpida’s mind. That is the only scene that counts. Her condition deteriorates throughout the 96 minutes of the film with the possible exception of the respite provided by her imagination or the reality of her relationship with the painter and her friend Eleftheria.
Eleftheria by contrast is vivacious, outgoing and a woman with guts. She prayed for her husband’s penis to dry up and for him to die. And guess what? Her prayers were answered, she tells us with glee. Elpida’s facial expression conveys the utter misery of a woman, of all women, trapped in hellish marriages. There are escape hatches and we watch as Elpida tries to find one for herself. In the end she leaves us with an extended gale of mysterious laughter.
Mishiali, who also wrote the screenplay, wants us to see the physically and emotionally cramped apartment, the blurry surrounding world and the expression on Elpida’s face and soul. It is a masterful approach which evokes a superb performance from Fyrogeni and the supporting cast.
Pause, written and directed by Tonia Mishiali, was streamed on November 19 and 20, 2020 as part of the European Union Film Festival. For more information see: www.euffto.com
James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared first in the newspaper