Written by Fedor Tot for Encounters Film Festival.
Capping off a day’s focus on Cyprus at Encounters was Pause, the debut feature from Cypriot social issues filmmaker, Tonia Mishiali. We follow Elpida (Stella Fyrogeni), an aging housewife, trapped in an abusive, long since dead relationship with husband Costas (Andreas Vasileiou). Set almost exclusively in the couple’s claustrophobic flat, we follow Elpida in a daily domestic routine that’s calcified into drudgery.
Gradually, we see images of abuse creep into frame. Initially, it’s small stuff: a brilliant early image sees the couple watching two separate television sets in the evening, him with the football, loud, and her listening via headphones. He berates her when she takes them out. Then, there’s verbal abuse as Elpida takes a second helping at dinner, followed by Costas selling her car - potentially to make ends meet in retirement, but more likely to limit her freedom. These images are juxtaposed with flights of fancy imagined by Elpida: she sees herself throwing a plateful of food at Costas or poisoning him; imagines much younger, more romantic men paying attention to her.
As a film that takes a sincere look at an older woman’s hopes, dreams and desires, Pause brings Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria (2013, 2018) to mind, but this is a much darker, angrier and shocking. Mishiali bathes the film in cold blues, as if to suggest a life lived under ice, waiting to break free. Fyrogeni’s dialogue-light performance is superb, as feelings flicker fleetingly across her face.
Beyond its central premise of an abusive relationship, however, there is not much variation, until the final act where it threatens to turn into something truly radical. Elpida’s grip on reality slips, but, ultimately, it pulls away from the precipe. A shame, as there’s a far wilder, braver story in here.