A Woman in Love

in 8th Prishtina International Film Festival

by Massimo Lechi

There is a scene towards the end of Syllas Tzoumerkas’ A Blast (I Ekrixi) where Maria, the main character portrayed by the outstanding Angeliki Papoulia, is sitting in the dark kitchen of a mortgaged house, staring at her heartbroken father’s wet eyes. She is the thirty-something mother of three kids, married to a laconic sailor (Vassilis Doganis) who is always at sea and seems to have stopped caring about her. She is also the daughter of a couple of proud and stubborn individuals (Giorgos Biniaris and Themis Bazaka) who have irresponsibly been hiding a monstrous debt for years, causing the inevitable destruction of their own family. But, above all, she is a woman whose only chance to fix her dramatic situation is to commit a crime after which nothing will ever be the same again. Abandoned by her husband, betrayed by her parents (especially by her mother, who dies when it’s too late for repentance), Maria may seem to have no energy left for a painful confrontation at this point. So far, the frantic and fragmentary narrative style chosen by Tzoumerkas has roughly broken her story into pieces. Every short sequence is the small and edgy part of an uneven patchwork where a naked body replaces the dull face of a front desk employee, and a scene of steamy sex is followed by a car chase on the highway. The viewer has been forced to go constantly back and forth, like an empty barrel on a rocking ship, but the fil rouge of the screenplay was clear from the start: the implacable making of the tragic event that will change the lives of every character involved in the narration.

Convulsive and claustrophobic, A Blast – which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Prishtina International Film Festival this April, two years after it premiered in Locarno – is a cinematic trap. You can’t escape from it without bruises, just like Maria, whose reaction to life’s cruel plot against her is partly a violent rebellion and partly a masochistic self-sacrifice. She will set fire to a piece of land in the country, get the money from some unscrupulous property speculators, pay off the family debt and then disappear in the heat, driving a SUV at full speed. Behind her, flames, blood and astonishment.

But the Maria we had seen in few flashbacks at the very beginning of the movie was much different. Young and light-hearted, she didn’t only strive for happiness: she believed in her own right to happiness. Having grown in a moderately wealthy middle-class environment, at the age of twenty she took most of her future for granted: a degree, a career, children and half of her mother’s house (in this ideal picture there was also an unreliable sister, played by Maria Filini, who couldn’t of course be deprived of her part of inheritance). And that is more or less what she got after having left university: a hunky husband with a strong libido like hers, lively kids, a job in the family shop. Hers were not dreams but the common aspirations of an average European woman born in a time when food was always on the table. If you are good-looking and apparently without money problems, she seems to have thought while entering adulthood, there is no reason to worry about what life will bring.

But at thirty Maria’s world has already crashed. The debt contracted by her mother is a deep black hole where certainties vanish in whirlpools. Guilt and resentment spread like cancers mercilessly consuming everybody’s past, present and future. The relationship between generations is irretrievably compromised. And the political metaphor stands out in all its cruelty: Maria’s family has lived in denial for too long, exactly like Greece.

In the dim light of the kitchen, after all the kicking, running and yelling, the woman’s sharp words once and for all express that mix of rage, love and despair that determines her actions. Her father is guilty, she says, because he has refused to admit what has been really going on for ages. His life has no meaning now: all he can do is follow his daughter’s orders and accept the punishment. Framed by the camera of cinematographer Pantelis Mantzanas, the wild and panting Medea, created by the director and his co-writer Youla Boudali, reaches the point of no return: a new tragic clearness of mind, a new consciousness. There will be no love once the filthy debt is repaid.

Edited by Yael Shuv