Sarajevo 2023 review: Medium (Christina Ioakeimidi)

“What sets Medium up as such a truly engaging and captivating film is the form it takes.”

For over a decade, Christina Ioakeimidi has slowly been growing into one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Greek cinema. Most of her work as a writer and director has occurred concurrently with the movement known as the Greek Weird Wave, yet it still possesses the same intrinsic values and intentions when it comes to unsettling certain sacrosanct aspects of the human condition, shattering conventions and then reconstructing them to be more honest to what she imagines reality to entail. This is extremely evident in Medium, her adaptation of the novel by the film’s screenwriter Giorgos Sibardis. The film tells the story of a young woman who moves temporarily from her home in the countryside to a working-class neighbourhood in Athens after the death of her mother in order to help her sister, who is on the precipice of giving birth. In the process, she discovers new sides of this city, losing herself to its deceptive charms, which causes a division in her already contentious relationship with her sister, as well as giving her entirely new perspectives on her identity. A simple but extraordinarily moving film about the challenges of growing into your identity at a crucial point in your life, Medium is a curious drama that ventures deep into the heart of this young woman and her existential journey. All delivered with a remarkable sense of cohesion and intensity, enough to balance many of the more unconventional aspects of this narrative with something equally authentic and meaningful, without becoming particularly overwrought in the process.

Structurally, we find that Medium starts as a conventional realist drama, formed along the well-defined lines of a traditional coming-of-age story. This does not last particularly long, since it slowly but confidently moves towards a more unique style of filmmaking – it is not revolutionary in either form or content, but it has a rebellious spirit that Ioakeimidi draws upon when adapting this novel, which centres on the experiences of someone as they undergo the daunting journey of growing up. Eleftheria is not entirely sure who she is or what she stands for – she is the “medium” the title refers to, as she is caught between an older sister, who has managed to start her own life, and a younger sister (and her soon-to-be-born niece), who occupy the majority of her family’s attention. However, she still manages to be a captivating character (mainly due to the magnetic and striking performance given by Angeliki Beveratou, a gifted young actor who commits entirely to the challenges of this role), a protagonist whose journey is compelling precisely because of how the director approaches it with nothing but sincerity. Identity is not always an easy theme to explore without the story becoming heavy-handed, but the director manages to show this character navigating the ambiguous space between different chapters of her life with razor-sharp precision, avoiding the cliches normally found with the fish-out-of-water tale that this film seems to be dancing around without actively making use of those tropes. It creates a layered narrative that is straightforward but still leaves some space for ambiguity, which is utilized well by Ioakeimidi in her construction of this detailed character study.

As intriguing as these narrative details may be in exploring the fundamental themes of the film (which sometimes feels like a visual novel in how it is organized), what sets Medium up as such a truly engaging and captivating film is the form it takes, with Ioakeimidi working to craft a story of identity in which most of the commentary is delivered alongside the verbal channel, rather than depending on it. With the exception of Claire Simon’s Our Body, few films this year have been more entranced by the human body than this one. Movement and physicality are the primary tools used by the director to tell this story, framing so much of the narrative through quiet moments in which the actors’ bodies convey emotion and meaning, so that we find ourselves developing a deeper connection to these major ideas. Ioakeimidi uses the human body as a poetic device, a means to tell a story in a way that words could never accomplish. The corporeal, visceral aspects of this film are embodied more in the visual channel than they are in the verbal. Which isn’t to say the dialogue is redundant – if anything, it is important but mostly supplementary to the images on screen. It creates a disquieting but unique depiction of desire and the emotional connections we forge with different people over time, as well as the relationship we have with ourselves and our own shifting identities, which form the basis of this film’s main philosophy.

Medium is a film in which our young protagonist becomes enclosed in the labyrinthine streets of contemporary Athens, becoming influenced by both its libertine philosophy and off-kilter culture, but in the process of getting lost in the city she somehow manages to find herself. She reconfigures her identity to match not only those of the people who surround her wherever in this sprawling metropolis she finds herself, but also her own burgeoning sexuality. Yet it is not surprising that the most moving, visceral moments come about when the character is in a more natural setting, with the beach serving as the stage for her most striking psychological revelations. We see Eleftheria surrender to several vices, whether substance or sexual, but these do very little in terms of helping her find her identity. Instead, it’s the smaller moments of self-reflection and the connections she makes with other people that assist her on this journey. Forthright and steadfast in its message, and fascinating in the delivery, Medium is a film about a young woman caught in the middle who feels like she is on the edge of being forgotten altogether, which causes her to shift her behaviour and become someone else. But in the process, she discovers who she truly is, which is a revelatory and impactful moment that the director gradually explores in great detail, leading to an engaging drama with a jagged edge and a tender soul, two contradictory ideas that work together in perfect synchronicity in this instance.