The Cypriot film, Pause, opens with a shot of a woman sitting in a gynecologist’s waiting room. Elpida’s (Stella Fyrogeni) face appears exhausted. She seems zoned out, caught in a labyrinth of her own thoughts. She gets called into the gynecologist’s office and snaps out of her daze.
A male gynecologist dispassionately attends to her, tells her there’s nothing to worry about, and fills out a prescription for hormones. Medically, Elpida is exhibiting the symptoms of premature menopause. Elpida’s malaise, however, may have less to do with her “pause” and more to do with the personal/social phenomena that are hovering around her.
Elpida lives in a Cyprus that has not recovered from its financial crisis. Elpida and her husband Costas (Andreas Vasileiou) live in a humble flat. They are barely scraping by economically. As if things were not bleak enough for Elpida, Costas is very controlling. He discourages her from going out, dying her hair, and even refuses paying for internet access so as to limit her interactions with the outside world.
Elpida is only allowed to have the money that Costas doles out to her. He even sells her car. Her days consist of household chores and walking to the market for groceries. She feels more dead than alive.
As much as her husband tries to extinguish Elpida, a sparkling private universe still glows inside. She has a rich sexual fantasy inner world. Her imagination creates narratives wherein she defies Costas or even kills him. She paints whenever her husband is away at work. And, when her husband is away at work, she spends quality time with her friend Eleftheria (Popi Avraam).
Director Tonia Mishiali and actress Stella Fyrogeni’s performance bring Elpida to life as a three-dimensional character. The film’s tone is stark and at times bleak, but it is not entirely hopeless. No matter how much Elpida’s surroundings try to kill her spark of individuality, her internal poetry; there is still life flowing insider her. In our everyday lives, we encounter Elpidas—at the market, on public transportation, at medical waiting rooms.
On the surface, these women display the burdens, sacrifices, and responsibilities imposed upon them—the raising of children, the maintenance of the household, the tending to others first. If we were to scratch the surface, however, we would find–as in the case of Elpida–a rich and compelling psychic universe.
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