Director: Piero Messina
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Razor Rizzotti, Lou de Laâge, Domenico Diele
100min Drama France | Italy
In an villa in Sicily a woman is waiting in the dark. Something terrible has happened and this mystery feels as ancient and as dark at the one between mothers and their sons. THE WAIT is Piero Messina’s directorial debut and it feels a very Italian film with is echoes of Christ’s death underpinning the narrative and linking it to the deep sense of loss and pain that one mother feels in the aftermath to a tragedy that unravels during Eastertide in her family home.
Clearly taking cues from his mentor Paolo Sorrentino, Messina has made a highly stylised and haunting drama with another tour de force performance from Juliette Binoche in the role of Anna. A French woman who married a Sicilian several decades previously, she is now divorced but still lives in the age-old villa at the foothills of Mount Etna.
This is a slow-burning drama that has divided audiences here at Venice Film Festival, where it has its premiere. Lou de Laâe plays a madonna-like young woman who has been invited to the villa to share the Easter holidays with her boyfriend Giuseppe, Anna’s son. But Anna, devastated by the death of her brother, is caught of guard by this arrival and simply cannot communicate, what appears to be another absence, that of her son Giuseppe.
This very simple storyline allows Messina to craft a seductively atmospheric two-hander in which two woman dance a tentative tango while each attempts to scope out the other. As Anna, Binoche is captivating. While being drawn to Jeanne – who is also French and a welcome guest from the ‘outside’ world – she craves her company but also keeps her at arms’ length from the awful circumstances of her sudden loss. This is a clever ploy but also a deeply selfish act, for which she is chided by the old retainer, Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli). Claiming she is waiting for the ‘right time’ to tell Jeanne, she continues to luxuriate in the girl’s bewilderment and she quizzes her on the relationship with her son; playing a power- game while she teases out information from the younger woman.
Clearly, something is not right. Jeanne has not heard from Giuseppe for several days and cannot raise him on his mobile phone. Deeply in love with him, she waits patiently while politely playing houseguest to Anna. At the same time, Giuseppe’s whereabouts remain a mystery: is he injured, dead or simply gone away without letting anyone know? Messina builds up such a magical ambiance, luxuriating in the glorious heat of this Sicilian springtime, that somehow we are content to let the enigma play out, clutching at straws and letting our own imaginations wander as we wonder where he is.
Deeply ambiguous, yet imbued with ancient symbolism, the film ends without even revealing the truth behind this everlasting mystery: that of the relationship between a mother and her precious son. For Catholics, this is especially resonant: the Virgin woman conceiving and giving birth to a boy single-handedly, she continues through life to exert a special and enigmatic control over him until the end. And to re-enforce the sacred mystery: we never meet Giuseppe in THE WAIT. And for many mothers, this is the only power they have over their sons when the boys grow into men. Jealously guarded them and keeping other women away for as long as they possibly can. When their sons do fall in love, the women will always regarded with suspicion and occasionally atavistic hatred and mistrust, by their mothers.
Essentially a two-hander, inspired by the Pirandello’s play: “The Life I Gave You” from Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author”), THE WAIT may be prove too long a wait for many. But savour its atmosphere while you can. Messina is a new voice and a stylish one. And Italian cinema is desperately in need of one. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE
REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 12 SEPTEMBER 2015