‘Pause’, an award-winning Cypriot film about toxic masculinity

After winning multiple awards including the FIPRESCI prize, Greek Cypriot film Pause will be screened at the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) from 8 June.

Directed by Greek Cypriot Tonia Mishiali, ‘Pause’ tells the story of a woman who fantasises about escaping her cruel husband’s toxic masculinity after he has exhausted her spirit and creativity.

Though being from a refugee family that fled Famagusta during the 1974 invasion of Cyprus has “scarred” her, she said that telling an empowering female story was more important to her.

“So many things have been done about this subject and really it wasn’t something I was interested in exploring. I was more sensitive to women’s issues and equality and the patriarchy,” Mishiali told Neos Kosmos. “The story has been inspired by what I have been watching around me since I was a kid and this is represented in my film in an extreme way. It’s my anger from watching this. In our generation it’s better, but we still have a long way to go. The position of women in the house is what I show in ‘Pause’.”

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Tonia Mishiali

Stella Fyrogen magnificently portrays Elpida, the main protagonist, who can no longer stand her husband’s abusive behaviour and her attempts at revenge and rebellion oscillates between reality and fantasy. As the film progresses it’s difficult to pinpoint what is real or not and it’s a storytelling device that Mishiali was adamant on using from the outset.

“I make it clear at the beginning of the film what she is fantasising about,” she explained. “I really wanted to put the audience in the protagonist’s shoes so when Elpida starts getting confused the audience is confused also. For me things were clear. I knew when she was fantasising and when she was in reality. I left it a bit open for the audience for them to make their own decisions.”

Greek Australian audiences at the SFF will be able to pick the Greek Cypriot director’s brain in person as Mishiali will be part of the ‘In Conversation: Europe! Voices of Women’ in Film panel.

Ahead of the free event at the Town Hall in Sydney on Sunday 9 June, Mishiali was excited to show her film and discuss gender parity in the film industry.

“It’s definitely amazing that I get to screen the film in different countries because you make a film to be watched by people,” she said. “Being able to screen in the section that included Voices of Europe – Women filmmakers, this is also vitally important for me to be selected amongst so many European female directors and I’m representing Cypriot female directors in Sydney.”

Mishiali also expressed her delight that her film is part of a global movement that has seen a greater emphasis of female directors telling women’s stories.

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“It’s important that these stories are told and having a protagonist that is female, especially in the cinema world where we don’t really see real characters coming to life on screen. Especially middle aged women. I really wanted to show a real character with their flaws and their sensitivity. To show what they are scared of, what they love, what they don’t like.”

Mishiali hopes that by dealing with the themes of female empowerment, women will be inspired to leave abusive relationships.

“It is really the obligation of family that holds Elpida back,” she says.

“Cyprus as a country is changing, we still have a long way to go and we need a lot of work. Some countries have evolved more than others but Cyprus is quite far behind. But now women are more powerful. They have their own lives and careers and they are not scared to separate if they are not happy. Before it wasn’t like that.”

‘Pause’ is at the SFF on Saturday 8 June at 5.00 pm and Sunday 9 June at 12.15 pm. Tickets at https://www.sff.org.au/program/browse/pause