My grandmother once told me the greatest pain ever felt was felt by a parent burying her own child. Nothing could feel more unnatural. Losing a loved one is tragic; losing a child is devastation.
That devastation has come to Anna (Juliette Binoche) as she buries her adult son, Giuseppe, just days before Easter. Adding a wrinkle to this scenario is Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), Giuseppe’s Parisian girlfriend currently en route to Anna’s Italian villa where she and Giuseppe planned to spend the holiday.
Unfortunately, Jeanne and Giuseppe’s communication is less than stellar. She leaves several voicemails, but hears nothing in return. When Jeanne arrives at the villa, Anna does not tell her of Giuseppe’s untimely fate, and instead informs her that an unnamed relative has passed. With little else to do, Jeanne strikes up a relationship with Anna, trying to comfort her while she waits for Godot.
L’attesa (The Wait) is 35-year-old Piero Messina’s first feature film as director, and the young Italian shows a capable hand at visual storytelling. He ought to; he learned from one of the best: Paolo Sorrentino, whose The Great Beauty had Messina in the role of assistant director. Sorrentino is one of the more fascinating figures to come out of European cinema in the past decade, and Messina has clearly picked up some pointers. The visuals of L’attesa are stunning and exquisitely shot. The performances are expertly calibrated. Binoche, playing her role in both French and Italian, is aces in any language and Messina provides a definite sense of place.
But what Messina failed to grab from Sorrentino is also what separates L’attesa from more exciting and penetrating works of cinema. Messina has no knack for pacing and no sense of mystery; both of which make Sorrentino’s films hallmarks of European cinema. Though set during the Easter holiday, L’attesa opens with Giuseppe’s funeral but never manages to move out of mourning into assumption. Instead, Giuseppe’s presence, or lack thereof, haunts these women. Anna refuses to move on while Jeanne doesn’t know she needs to.
Messina explores these perspectives at a deliberate and languid pace, mostly to the movie’s detriment. In other situations this approach would be necessary, but with performers of this magnitude, silence says so much more. And indeed, large chunks of the movie unfold with little dialogue, Binoche’s face doing most of the heavy lifting. Just one of many reasons that Bincohe’s three-decade long career in cinema is one of acclaim.
How long Messina’s career will last has yet to be determined. But as long as he continues to pick valuable collaborators, it is no doubt that he will be able to work out some of the clumsier kinks in his narrative. Here’s to hoping that moviegoers won’t have to wait too long.
On the Bill: L’attesa (The Wait). June 16–18, The Boedecker Theater, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7825, thedairy.org.