The Hardest Part: The Wait

the wait-juliette binoche

The Wait
Directed by Piero Messina
Opens April 29 at the Landmark Sunshine

“Your mom is odd,” says a young woman in a voicemail to her boyfriend in the Italian film L’Attesa (The Wait), a sentence that’s repeated a few times throughout the moody—and rather tedious—first feature. Juliette Binoche calls to mind the glassy-eyed role-play of Certified Copy as the mother in question, Anna, who indeed acts oddly here—in large part because her only son, Giuseppe, has just passed away. Central to the movie, though, is a ruse kept up by the older woman: She manages to convince the wide-eyed Jeanne (less assured fellow Frenchwoman Lou de Laâge), who’s come to visit Anna’s Sicilian palazzo for Easter, that Giuseppe has only been delayed in his arrival.

Director Piero Messina—who also co-wrote the loose Luigi Pirandello adaptation with three others (Giacomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, and Andrea Paolo Massara)—doesn’t aim for straight realism, soaking his stylized film in slow motion and religious iconography. But the human behavior on display is hard to credit regardless. In her rigorous denial, Anna appears dead set on pretending her son back to life—a conjuring she undertakes ahead of the day on which Christ himself was risen. On the other hand, the naïve Jeanne somehow doesn’t seem too concerned that there’s no sign of Giuseppe. She’s content to leave him lovingly offhand voicemails ahead of his promised appearance, messages on which his mother, having taken her son’s phone, eavesdrops. Meanwhile, Messina lards their titular “wait” with further symbolism. When Anna makes Jeanne breakfast, for instance, he naturally includes a close-up of a broken egg yolk in a pan.

The two women, then, wind up caught in an only partly conscious contest for the affection of someone who fails to appear, as the only other presence in the house, the caretaker Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli), looks on with stone-faced disapproval at Anna’s continued subterfuge. Messina, a 35-year-old whose highest-profile gig to this point was as assistant director on Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning Great Beauty, might not manage to make this static scenario into a compelling two-hander, but he does occasionally show a flair for the melodramatic. At one point, Anna sits on her bed alone, clutching at a pool float Giuseppe used to use about the house, letting the air rush out of it and onto her face. The slow-moving L’Attesa could’ve used a few more such studies in desperation: It’s one of the few moments in the movie where Anna’s grief truly comes into focus.

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