There are times when you come across films which blow your mind with its very first act that one wishes with all our might that it doesn’t go awry in the subsequent portions. I experienced the same with director Tonia Mishiali’s debut feature Pause (Pafsi) which speaks about the harrowing life of the middle-aged Elpida (Stella Fyrogeni).
Facing menopausal transition, Elpida is shown to consult the gynaecologist in the opening scene. The doctor lists out a series of possible symptoms and concludes how everything is still okay with her. One might wonder if the film is going to maintain this dark humour tonality but Pause chooses to pan out differently. The film takes us through the difficult and submissive life that Elpida has lived for decades with her dominating, unloving husband (Andreas Vassiliou) in a dreary apartment. Her desires get barely addressed and her freedom is crippled without an iota of sympathy. The docile wife that she is, Elpida barely resists oppression. Her combat usually comes in form of fantasy episodes in which she does impossible things as cutting off the television wire to annoy her husband or locking lips with a sexually charged neighbour on instinct. By bringing to us a series of revelatory segments as these, writer-director Mishiali exposes the real shades in Elpida’s characterization with expertise.
Also forming an important part of the story is the household’s domesticated parrot, a favourite of her husband. Forming an interesting allegory to Elpida’s state of mind, the parrot refuses to leave the house even as it gets uncaged. Another impressive metaphor is the car – her sole companion in the household – which her husband sells off sans her consent. Pause gives us enough reasons to ponder over the presence of several static objects in a narrative that sees fewer people and is also heavily dependent on its sombre mood.
The cinematography, therefore, sharply focuses on the materials in the house, letting us connect effectively with the central character’s plight. Pause is also abundant in well-calibrated low and high angle shots which remain delightfully still for a few extra seconds. The colours are even and monotonous within the house but it takes subtle turns whenever Elpida’s flamboyant neighbor, Eleftheria (Popi Avraam) pays her visits. The writer effectually contrasts Elpida’s wants to Eleftheria’s freedom and free-spiritedness. There is also a fine, impartial dose of female gaze as we see the local painter becoming an object of Elpida’s sexual desires.
Pause takes no dramatic turns as it leads to what is an immensely satisfying finale even though there are several teases that try to prepare us for a more conventional culmination. The film delivers a massive blow on the face of patriarchy without explicitly referring to it. The rebellion (or the absence of it) and the ultimate victory of the protagonist is something that gorgeously mirrors the lives of many a woman living in every corner of the world. In one of the finest cinematic experiences that I have had this year, Tonia Mishiali’s film is a staggering winner and Stella Fyrogeni’s principal performance is one for keeps.