Shibboleth / Cyprus
Alexandra Matheou is a screenwriter and director based in Athens, Greece. She holds a Law LLB and LLM from King’s College London, as well as an MA in Film Studies from University College London (UCL). Her short films have screened internationally and her latest A SUMMER PLACE (2021), a Cyprus-France co-production with the support of the CNC, continues its festival run with selections and awards at major film festivals around the world including AFI Fest, Palm Springs, Tampere and Odense International Film Festival among others.
Alexandra recently launched This is the Girl Films, an independent film production company based in Cyprus, as well as co-founded Film SOS, Greece’s first initiative aiming to accelerate sustainability in the Greek audiovisual sector.
Alexandra is an alumna of Talents Sarajevo 2018 and a Fellow at Oxbelly Screenwriters and Directors Lab 2022 under the mentorship of director Kelly Reichardt. Her first feature film SHIBBOLETH is currently in development with the support of Onassis Culture and the Cyprus Film Fund.
A love triangle forms between a surrogate mother and the couple whose baby she is pregnant with, when she joins them on a seemingly perfect Greek island vacation. Nothing goes as planned when the truth is revealed about their real intentions and the secrets this island harbours.
Mary is 35 and still makes her living as a surrogate mother. When Nora and Michael (50s, writers, affluent), the couple whose baby she is pregnant with host her at their beautiful home on a summer vacation, a strange love triangle begins to form between them.
But even as Mary grows more and more attached to Nora and Michael, she gradually starts piecing information together that paints a disquieting picture about the Island they are on. At the heart of it lies a mysterious woman addressed never by name, but known by all as ‘The Mother’. According to the people of The Island, ever since The Mother started living here in the 70s, the locals stopped dying – they just stayed at the age they were when She arrived. Nobody can explain it but the faith in The Mother runs so deep that it manifests everywhere. Thought of as a modern day ‘Saint’, she has since been locally worshipped by all.
In the continuum of this seemingly idyllic island life, Mary’s relationship with Nora and Michael becomes increasingly more complex. Eventually, Mary confronts an unsettling truth. As non-locals, Michael and Nora have agreed to a Faustian bargain: in exchange for eternity, they have agreed to give away the baby to The Mother and her cult as an offering. When Mary decides to take matters into her own hands and terminate the pregnancy, all hell breaks loose in a surrealist drama that explores some of the moral quandaries around birth and the rights of a mother, as well as dares to interrogate life’s one and most singular certainty: the collective inevitability of our death.
In a time and era that has been derailing humanity’s every certainty, I seek to explore the version of a microcosm that seems to have retained its own, well, impressively intact. Within this peculiar state of harmonious tranquility that the Island we get introduced to seems to enjoy, death as we know it seems to have been gloriously defeated for a while now. As the stories I feel I naturally gravitate towards in my work tend to involve absurdism as an integral part of our everyday life, I find this premise particularly fascinating. In a similar way, the characters that attract me are usually different types of outcasts who land in unusual situations or within very asphyxiating environments. They tend to express their existential angst in unconventional ways that lend themselves to either deep melancholy or sharp humour.
In Shibboleth, the universe we are in invites certain allegories that all orbit around the themes it purports to explore, namely the complexities of motherhood and all the symbols that envelop it; the idea of faith as a motivational tool even when it can be weaponised in the spirit of manipulation; the crucial influence of love through an unconventional polyamorous relationship and of course, the role of art as the means to defeat death.
Within the occasionally disconcerting atmosphere of The Island, we start to piece out what’s happening through the eyes of Mary, our main protagonist. Mary’s way of providing meaning to her life and creating a legacy for herself is through bringing children to the world that will in turn grow up in happy families. This is her way of coping with her trauma. In contemporary American literature, the term “post-wounded women” has been coined to describe a wave of female characters whose high intellectual capacity adopts detachment as a way of coping with such traumas. These are women who weaponise humour or witty cynicism as the means to overcome pain. To my mind, Mary is a clear example of such a character.
With Shibboleth, my most sincere ambition is to create a piece of work that stands out as audacious and original, by not being afraid to subvert expectations or borrow elements from different genres. In the way I envision it, this film is a poetic parable with absurdist elements that even though subtly flirts with the metaphysical, it tonally and dramaturgically remains laser-focused on the characters it revolves around. My goal is to immerse an audience into an airtight universe that asks more questions than it provides answers for but instead gently weaves a multitude of thematic layers with nuanced precision. More importantly, I want the film to invite the existential reflections that have constantly preoccupied my own childhood all the way to my young adult years and occasionally my present self: would remaining alive till the end of time be the biggest blessing or the most sinister trojan horse anyone could gift me?
Producer: Tonia Mishiali / Bark Like a Cat Films (Cyprus)
Funding: Development grant of Cyprus Film Fund, Onassis Culture