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L’ATTESA (THE WAIT) (2015) review

April 29, 2016

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written by: Giacomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, Andrea Paolo Massara & Piero Messina
produced by: Carlotta Calori, Francesca Cima and Nicola Giuliano
directed by: Piero Messina
rated: unrated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: April 29, 2016 (NY/LA)

 

What is just as common as birth, school, work and death? Grief. Who’s the greatest griever in independent cinema? Without a doubt, the magnificent and luminous, Juliette Binoche. If you’ve been following her award-winning career at all, you probably first noticed this in Krzysztof Kieślowski 1993 film “Blue” (part of the “Three Colors” trilogy), where Binoche extraordinarily portrayed a grief-stricken woman who lost her husband and child in an accident. I was reminded of that role while watching the recent Italian film “L’attesa” or “The Wait” as it’s been renamed for the international market. Binoche’s expressive work in this film – Piero Messina’s impressive directorial debut – is just as spellbinding as her previous dramatic roles and it helps that Messina’s vague approach to loss is reliant on her abilities.

While Binoche was clearly the draw in my decision to view “The Wait”, as the film unfolded in its first fifteen minutes, I become increasingly absorbed by Messina’s confident artful direction. I found myself discovering a new talent. When I found out Messina has served as assistant director on Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s films, “This Must Be The Place” and the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty”, it became obvious where he developed his style, since both directors rely on stylistically rich visuals in their cinematic storytelling.

 

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“The Wait” opens in darkness, slowly revealing a statue of Christ on the cross and then just as slowly revealing mournful figures dressed in black who walk to the foot of the cross in acknowledgement loss and to offer condolences. This is where we first see Anna (Binoche) and it doesn’t take long for us to figure out that she is the one who has suffered a great loss. The story moves to the old Sicilian villa where Anna resides, in the beautiful countryside near Mount Etna. The home is overseen by Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli), the dutiful family servant and handyman who keeps to himself yet knows all that transpires in Anna’s family. Arriving from Paris by surprise is Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), who states she is the girlfriend of Anna’s son, Giuseppe and that she was invited by him to spend the upcoming Easter holiday with his family. Anna is startled by Jeanne’s arrival, claiming she was unaware Giuseppe had a girlfriend and tells Jeanne that he is away and should be returning for the holiday.

Things don’t seem right for Jeanne though. She can’t fathom why Giuseppe isn’t responding to her phone calls or why his bedroom feels as if he just walked out. Stranger still is Anna’s behavior, she seems odd to Jeanne as she stares off into the space as the sit and drink coffee – she can’t figure out why her boyfriend’s mother feels so distant and sad. The truth is Giuseppe has suddenly died. It’s never revealed how he died, but it is obvious from Anna’s mourning and her awkwardness around Jeanne – as well as the silence from Pietro and Anna’s sister-in-law, Rosa (Corinna Locastro). However, Anna is unable to tell Jeanne what has happened and over the next couple days, the two slowly get to know each other and form something of a friendship as they wait for Easter and Giuseppe.

As we watch “The Wait” we are increasingly filled with wonder and gnawing questions. How much longer can this go on? When is it ever an appropriate time to deliver such sad news? Why isn’t Jeanne more vocal about her frustration and confusion as she waits for Giuseppe? Or even further – is Giuseppe really dead? There aren’t too many red herrings for any of these questions, but Messina does insert actor Giovanni Anzaldo to play Giuseppe interacting with Anna in the third act. It’s obvious such a scene was included to indicate more of Anna’s mental/emotional state than it is to establish what state of living Giuseppe is in, but it’s also another dreamlike addition to “The Wait”.

 

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There are also some logistic questions that I couldn’t overlook throughout the film. They primarily pertain to Anna’s use of Giuseppe’s cell phone. She listens in on the emotional voicemails Jeanne is leaving him while she is there, asking him where he is, why he isn’t talking to her and when she will see him – but how in the world does Anna have access to her son’s voicemail. Before you think iPhone, let me tell you that Giuseppe’s phone looks like a step up from a flip phone. One explanation could be that the film takes place in the 90s. That’s never established, but it would explain the Wu-Tang poster in Giuseppe’s room and Messina’s use of “Waiting for a Miracle” from Leonard Cohen’s 1992 album “The Future” in the film. Still, those 90s phones required the owner to enter a code to access voicemail, which still leaves me wondering how and why Anna would have her son’s code. No son in their right mind would give his mother the code to his voicemail, I don’t care how close the relationship is.

Regardless, these are small gripes when considering how powerful “The Wait” is at handling the crippling state mourning can tend to be. It’s natural to wonder why Anna isn’t just coming out and saying how her son died, but then you imagine yourself in her situation and you understand how inconceivably difficult it would be to communicate such a devastating loss.  It’s also natural to think how Jeanne would be walking on eggshells around Anna, out of respect (since Anna has told Jeanne her brother had died) and cluelessness as to what to say during her bereaved state.

The story told in “The Wait” (which was partly inspired by the play “The Life I Gave You” by Luigi Pirandello, the Nobel winner who wrote Six Characters in Search of an Author, in which a mother refuses to accept her son’s death) made me think about what it must be like to walk into a stranger’s home during a repast. Like Jeanne felt when she arrives, you would clearly know something has happened, but there’d be an uncertainty as to how it happened and to who. Also, it’d become obvious it’s something entirely too awkward to ask. Such a situation reminds me how we don’t know what to say to those who’ve lost a loved one and when we’re the ones who’ve lost that loved one, we’re not thinking about what to say to others or how to behave.

At least we have Binoche, who is so great at guiding us through the pain and sadness of loss, but also the distraction of, say, cooking something to eat for someone else.  Messina and cinematographer Francesco di Giacomo often just let the camera sit and watch Binoche’s stillness and incredibly emotive face. The story in “The Wait” may be overly vague for some, but it does remind me that we as cinema viewers are often simply observers. Observers rarely have all the details pertaining to the lives of those they are watching. Sometimes the little information that can be gleaned is more than enough to go on and Messina knows this.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2016 1:24 am

    Wonderful review thank you. I saw this in Sydney two nights ago and must congratulate Piero Messina for what is a powerfully dramatic film. My review sees it more as a psychological thriller where “the minimalist dialogue and slow pace creates an open space into which is hung a finely wrought portrait of parental grief”.

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