Grief (A Place None of Us Know until We Reach It)

Alexandra Matheou


Cinema regularly acts as a portal to different worlds. Think of Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and the endless streets and alleys of Austria, France, and Greece, or Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and its road trip to Mexico; they’re movies that can show audiences around the globe. There are places, however, that a film cannot even hope to take you unless you’ve already been there yourself. 

Shot on 35mm and in under 12 hours in Sicily as the Terre di Cinema’s CineCampus residential program required, Alexandra Matheou’s short Grief (A Place None of Us Know until We Reach It) (2018), portrays mourning in such an exceptional, yet subtle, way that though it’s possibly bizarre to some viewers, it’s familiar to those that have known loss. Matheou, inspired by a quote from Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), kickstarts the film with a black screen accompanied by singing cicadas. The short tells the story of a mother (Themis Bazaka) and a daughter (Kika Georgiou) that have traveled to Sicily to scatter their husband/father’s ashes at a spot where he once had a beautiful time with his wife.

It’s a simple story not only in terms of plot but also in terms of cinematography. Matheou navigates seemingly everyday dialogue, sizzling under the Mediterranean sun, and tackles two very demanding themes filled with tension: grievances and the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. Starting off almost smoothly next to an olive tree, symbolically connoting the much needed declaration of peace between the two women if only they were willing to offer/receive an olive branch. The actresses’ arrangement in the shot, one standing and one seated, implies an emotional distance between them. A similar arrangement is repeated in the following shot as the characters are placed at the opposite sides of a fountain. Even if they are in search of a specific spot, Nico Biarese employs predominantly static shots, with only a single exception, throughout the short’s 8-minute running time. Perhaps this choice in technique points at the petrifying effect death has on the people left behind. It may also be that the static shots and the limited space the actresses are sharing are used to signify that the two characters are sort of forced to spend time together due to their situation. 

The strained relationship on screen, further emphasized by the calming Nature sounds and view of the landscape, goes beyond the visual and linguistic aspects of the short. It is the impeccable performances by Bazaka and Georgiou that render the story so engaging. Perfectly cast, this duo flawlessly delivers passive-aggressive dialogue; the mother vocally and the daughter in silent despair –  and even when she laughs, Georgiou oozes grief. Every nuanced complaint and remark gradually leads to the climactic scene wherein the daughter erupts just like the Etna volcano did, alluding to the parents’ first visit to Sicily. 

Willing to show the highs and lows of loss, Matheou carefully balances the funny and sad elements of human existence. It’s that crack in Georgiou’s voice when she asks “Did it even occur to you for a second to ask what I think?” that beautifully sums up the short’s two subject matters. After all, communication cannot be achieved through either whining or silence. Most significantly, however, Matheou does both of her themes justice by admitting that sometimes grief is a competition; that sometimes mourning might make you forget that there’s still someone here that just wants to share a moment. It’s an ode to the memories one makes on a daily basis, and how cherished they become after the source of said memories runs out. 

Ioanna Micha is a freelance copywriter based in Athens, Greece. She watches films. She reads about films. She writes about films. Generally speaking, if the word film is in the equation, she’s in.