MOVIE REVIEW: The Wait (L'attesa)



The award-winning Juliette Binoche is one of those actresses who can captivate an audience in complete silence.  Binoche has long been a reflective master of inflection and nuance.  She doesn’t have to say a word to convey the waterfall of thoughts and emotions going on within her characters.   She is a true artist for performance and the latest proof of that is her staggering dramatic role in “The Wait,” the directorial debut of Italian filmmaker Piero Messina.  The film opens this week for a Chicago run at the Gene Siskel Film Center downtown.

Translated as “L’attesa” in its Italian setting of Sicily, “The Wait” is a modernized merger of two stories from Italian dramatist and Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello, prominently his 1923 play “The Life I Gave You.”  The film is an internally painful story of known and unknown grief shared between two newly-introduced women.  Binoche plays Anna, a villa owner in a small Sicilian town.  A week before Easter, she has just suffered the unfortunate tragedy of burying her grown son Giuseppe.  The tragedy has rightly sapped her will and turned her extremely morose, as she relies on family members and her houseman Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli) to handle arrangements. 

The funeral gatherings are still finishing when a young woman from Paris arrives at Anna’s door.  Her name is Jeanne (Lou de Laage) and she is her deceased son’s fiancé, a woman she has never met.  Jeanne has arrived carrying word that Giuseppe was planning to meet her for Easter Sunday.  Truly trapped in that classic first stage of grief containing denial and isolation, Anna cannot bring herself to tell Jeanne the news.  She lies and puts on a good face to welcome Jeanne into her home and assures her that Giuseppe is coming.  Alone together through the holiday week, Anna and Jeanne fondly share time and come to know each other.  Anna hopes to savor a residual portion of her son’s spirit through the woman he loved, but it’s a matter of time before the guilt increases and the truth must emerge.

As the ingénue, Lou de Laage (“Respire”) gives a soulful side to Jeanne that outweighs the youthful sprite.  That innocence balances well with Juliette Binoche’s constant torment as Anna.  Every crease of Binoche’s facial beauty can hold a thousand possibilities, from elation to sorrow.  Her performance here is on the other side of the spectrum from her catalytic conversations and confrontations with Kristen Stewart from “Clouds of Sils Maria” a year ago.  Though not on that superior level, the Oscar winner still commands her presence and our focus.     

Young 35-year-old director Piero Messina is an enthusiastic pupil of noted Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino of “Youth” and “The Great Beauty.”  Messina was Sorrentino’s assistant director on “The Great Beauty” in 2013.  Messina chose his mentor wisely and does him proud with his work.  His on-the-job training could not have been better for this material and setting.  The Sorrentino influences on pace and visual style are clear to see on-screen.  Every shot of “The Wait” is framed to perfection, creating solid artistry. 

Cinematographer Francesco Di Giacomo aids Messina in giving intimacy to what would be menial and mundane domestic moments with varying angles and perspective.   In several moments, a simple task or household item triggers emotions and memories within Anna that remind her of her loss.  Di Giacomo’s use of slow-motion shifts of speed and elongated pauses extends those simple moments to convey the brimming emotion riding underneath.  This cinematic effect brilliantly simulates a distracted and distressed mind.

That brilliance has a price of patience.  “The Wait” moves at an unhurried pace, one that is likely too sluggish for most viewers, but fitting for the subject matter.   Grief is one of those emotions that does not have a symptomatic timetable or a measured story arc.  It seeps and festers on its own time and “The Wait” moves with similar apathy.  Binoche’s incredible central performance is the highlight to be respected through the difficult bleakness of the whole picture.  She continues to earn appropriate appreciation and devotion as one of the best female actors of her generation.

LESSON #1: THE RELATIONSHIP DYNAMIC BETWEEN A MOTHER AND HER DAUGHTER-IN-LAW—These two women, one young and one old, share a connection through their different love for a son.  In marriage, a daughter-in-law is meant to attain a second motherly figure and the mother gains another child.  That ideal will never happen for Jeanne and Anna as now they are bonded by loss.   

LESSON #2: GRIEF WILL MAKE SOMEONE LIE—Alluded earlier, the difficult mourning process will cause disbelief and denial.  Not admitting the finality of death or your own veiled “I’m fine” instability about handling it, people can be stricken enough by sadness to lie to themselves and other people. 

LESSON #3: TELL THE TRUTH—The second lesson makes this the appropriate learned finish.  Lies only get worse with time and repetition.  The same can be said about the grieving process.  The sooner you can admit the truth and be honest with yourself and others, the sooner you can build to acceptance.  Jeanne deserves the truth and Anna needs to concede her loss.