Piero Messina’s debut feature film arrives as a fully-formed entity, as though it was always there just waiting to be discovered. Of course, Messina doesn’t come to THE WAIT (L’ATESSA) as a novice, having served under Paolo Sorrentino as the assistant director on The Great Beauty, along with uncredited work on This Must Be the Place. What Messina appears to have taken from that work is a measured sense of position characters within a scene, and how to speak volumes without saying a word.
On the surface, THE WAIT could be a tale about any family. A mother, Anna (Juliette Binoche) unexpectedly meets her son Giuseppe’s fiancee Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) for the first time at a villa in Sicily. As they wait for Giuseppe to return, Anna is too distressed to tell Jeanne that he has just recently died in an accident. Based loosely on two Luigi Pirandello tales, The Life I Gave You (La vita che ti diedi) and the short story La camera in attesa, it’s an emotional study in grief and denial that utilises everything on screen.
Like Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, the film derives most of its tension from anticipation, so “the wait” is very literal for the audience as well. By the same token, Anna herself appears to be waiting for something, whether it’s the return of her son or simply the right moment. As such, THE WAIT becomes the story of a haunting, one where the presence of Giuseppe is always lingering around the corner. In a more tangible way, caretaker Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli) who lingers on the edges as a constant reminder to Anna that she is not being honest with either Jeanne or herself.
Besides the character focus, Messina and cinematographer Francesco Di Giacomo create a film of contrasts, between shadow and light. We open on the serenity and darkness of a funeral, with Anna haunting the corridors of her villa with only the light of a stained window to guide her. At times, Binoche’s face emerges from the shadows like a spectre. In comparison, Jeanne’s point of view is bathed in a golden light, spending time at the lake or dancing with local boys. The exception is the carnival of colour that swirls around Anna as she is surrounded by capirote hooded Nazarenos, as she desperately searches the resurrection procession for signs of something, perhaps the return of Giuseppe. It’s here that the film is at its most overtly religious, although the whole film could be an analogue for something more biblical.
A masterclass acting study in maternal grief, from an actress who has been showing us grieving since at least Three Colours: Blue over twenty years ago, Binoche is captivating. The alternatively seductive and naive de Laâge’s performance is impressive by virtue of her keeping pace with Binoche every step of the way. THE WAIT is powerful debut for Messina, one that demonstrates a firm grasp of the craft.
THE WAIT is released on 30 June 2016 in Australia from Palace Films.
2015 | Italy, France | DIR: Piero Messina | WRITERS: Giacomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, Andrea Paolo Massara, Piero Messina | CAST: Juliette Binoche, Lou de Laâge, Giorgio Colangeli | DISTRIBUTOR: Palace Films | RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes | RATING: ★★★★