There is a point in Pierro Messina’s Italian drama “L’attesa” (translated in English as “The Wait”) where I realized that the film’s title spoke not only to different significant plot points but also to my personal viewing experience. One character waits for another to arrive. One character waits to share important information. And I too waited, anxious to see exactly how and if the film’s emotionally combustible pieces fit together.
I bring that up because Messina (in his directorial debut) positions us and frames our connections to his film in such a way that we must patiently watch, wait, and absorb this enigmatic story. That can be a challenge since the film’s core is lean and simple working more as an intense emotional exploration than a tightly knit narrative. This has proven to be a problem for some. For me it was an arresting exercise in potent minimalist storytelling.
The idea for the film came from a story told to Messina by a friend. Gleanings from two specific works of writer Luigi Pirandello helped Messina and a team of three others finish the screenplay. Add to it a bold visual style clearly influenced by his mentor Paolo Sorrentino.
The film begins at a funeral with a mournful woman named Anna (played by Juliette Binoche) standing at the foot of a casket. We aren’t told who has died, but it’s no spoiler to say it is Anna’s son Giuseppe. Later Giuseppe’s girlfriend Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) arrives at Anna’s Sicilian villa expecting him there a few days later. Anna puts off telling Jeanne about Giuseppe’s death and the two wait for an arrival that Anna knows will never come.
Jeanne and Anna are waiting on two very different things, but in doing so they begin to develop a relationship. Mutual slow-growing sympathy, respect, and admiration is formed over conversations at the dinner table, in a car, on the banks of a lake, or in a Turkish bath. Yet as the audience we know the lingering secret and the potential devastating effect it could have.
Anna’s motivations behind withholding the truth are never spelled out for us and they don’t need to be. Binoche’s emotionally wrought performance vividly captures sorrow and mourning which roots her character’s reasons in her crushing grief. Binoche doesn’t need pages of dialogue. She pulls so much sentiment from her character through every expression and body movement. De Laâge is equally captivating. She is tasked with giving a much different performance than Binoche but an equally vital one.
I see Anna clinging to her son through Jeanne and she can’t bear the thought of letting go. But the film doesn’t have a singular conclusion. It offers other possible interpretations and even flirts with madness. Its effectiveness is helped in large part to Messina’s visual presentation. Much in the Malick vein, the visuals have a lyrical movement that flow hand-in-hand with the story rhythms. There is a subtle harmony between the pain and sorrow of the characters and the imagery we see. Each gorgeous and haunting image has purpose and are thoughtfully incorporated into what the film is conveying.
“L’attesa” is a challenge. It requires patience and a willingness to look beyond a mere surface impression. It doesn’t hold your hand or dictate how you should feel about the characters or the internal baggage they carry. What is does is lay bare these emotions in a way that draws the audience in. The effectiveness of that approach will probably determine your reaction to the film. For me, it worked in nearly every regard.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS