For all of recorded human history, women have mostly gotten the rotten end of the apple – not to make a reference to Adam & Eve, of course. In the Cypress made movie Pause, a middle-aged wife stuck in a painfully tedious, routine heavy, and unloved arranged marriage begins to imagine and yearn for personal freedom and true independence. Her struggle is one not so unique on the surface, but becomes very different in the experience and the temperament exhibited. Even as a white male, I can relate to her closed in anxieties and day-dream/day-mare ruminations, but I will never fully know the extent of her pain and the toll taken over so many years. Thankfully, Pause is so cinematically tight and sound that we (and I) can glean from it and observe many a reflective frame. Some belong just to her, however, and that’s ok. Not everything must be as a mirror image.
Elpida is married to Costas. Both are middle-aged, with him being a bit older and unhealthier. She’s creative, spending her free time taking painting classes, and often takes time in her small apartment to imagine a life different from what she has. She’s in the early stages of menopause which, in a darkly funny scene with her (male) doctor, a list of symptoms is read off casually without care for the consequences and potentialities presented. Hot flashes, headaches, heavy periods, and more create for her a reality most blurred by fantasy, where she drifts off easily and without caution into moments happening only in her head. From throwing a plate in her husband’s face to having romantic encounters with the young building painter, we (and she) ponders: What is reality? Does it matter to know?
Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Tonia Mishiali with an aggressive and graceful eye for personal turmoil and triumph, Pause I first assumed as being part of a Weird-Wave of movies made in that region of Europe. Instead of existing stylistically alongside works like Dogtooth, Mishiali’s film isn’t and shouldn’t be content with strangeness or absurdity. Pause is very of and in the moment, with actress Stela Fyrogeni giving a performance floating from indulgences to mundanity like a falling feather. Fyrogeni plays Elpida (also called Hope without a shred of irony but rather genuinely) like a tortured soul wearing her problems on her shoulders and in her face and eyes. When out and about with her neighbor at a nightclub, Elpida’s eyes flare up when a story about a dying husband comes up. Flare up with humor, interest, and devilish thoughtfulness. She’s splendid (can be applied to either or both director and lead actress).
Her created reality clashes with what’s “real” often and hard, making for plenty of tense and suspense-filled moments, moving between emotional fragility, satisfaction, and harm. Pause dresses up her world(s) with obvious if associative imagery, like a parking garage with V-shaped architecture and a still life setup she’s painting. Even the way passing cars light up her steady and motionless face at night hold significant meaning. The passing of time as she just ages alone and stuck.
Costas tells her once to “make up your mind” with regards to the temperature settings in the room. I wonder if Elpida caught on to that as I did, a line so serendipitous and rich that it could tip a person’s sanity either way. A laughing cackle of a finale can be seen/heard as crazy or optimistic, depending on who is around to pay attention. This is a film that plays with what’s real for us, what’s real for others, and if the universal reality we wish for all is attainable without breaking the self first.
Maybe Pause doesn’t go right for the throat of patriarchy throughout time or even in the now, but it does hone in on that one story that matters most: Our own. Well, her own, I mean. In Pause, dramatic feats of alternating memories and senses create an environment not unlike that of a Charlie Kaufman film. A gender-specific and culturally unique crisis done up in a lively landscape fraught with a wide range of emotional, vengeful, and feared imaginations.
She matches her quietly felt pain with that of violently realized wishful thinking. Whether consciously or subconsciously, her life is bending all around. What will cause it to break fully? I can only guess ever so closely.
RATING: 4 / 5