Never has a movie been more aptly titled because with this first feature from Italian director Piero Messina. You are forever waiting for something to happen; anything! The fundamental problem with The Wait (L’Attesa) is the fact that the story as presented struggles to sustain a reasonable running time. That is not to say that there aren’t substantial story possibilities here, but many of these opportunities are never explored and, as a result, Messina relies on a lot of padding – visually exquisite to be fair, but superfluous nonetheless – to extend the narrative beyond 90 minutes. The story, such as it is, revolves around a somewhat tenuous relationship between Anna (Juliette Binoche), a French divorcée living in Italy, and Jeanne (Lou de Laage), the girlfriend of Anna’s son, Giuseppe. The two women meet when Jeanne arrives unannounced to visit Giuseppe who, unbeknownst to Jeanne, has recently died. Whilst the audience is aware of what has transpired – albeit without any specifics about how it happened – Jeanne remains oblivious to Giuseppe’s death as Anna says it is her brother who has passed away.
As the days pass, Jeanne becomes increasingly frustrated by her inability to make contact with Giuseppe, while Anna sees the young girl’s presence as way to keep her son’s spirit alive, listening to the increasingly frantic voicemail messages that Jeanne leaves on Giuseppe’s phone, which is now in her possession. A friendship of sorts begins to develop between the two women, although very little is said and the sparse screenplay limits our understanding of the two characters and their relationships; with Giuseppe and each other. Whilst it isn’t always necessary for a film to engage in multiple narrative arcs or explain everything explicitly, certainly some insight into Giuseppe’s demise or the events of the previous summer that are alluded to by Jeanne but never explored further, would have added some welcome relief to the staid nature of the piece. Frustratingly, Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli), the only other significant character, has the potential to serve as a conduit through which we can better understand Anna and the events that preceded Jeanne’s arrival, but he is under-utilised by Messina. Like the two women, Pietro remains elusive to the audience and disappears from view before we gain any true sense of his place in Anna’s life.
There are some visually stunning moments here – winding roads amidst a burnt out landscape; Jeanne walking into a lake, cast into silhouette as the setting sun glistens on the surface; canopies of leaves in a lush green forest; the darkened halls and passageways of the house that contrast with the sun-drenched exterior – but as beautifully rendered as these moments (and plenty more) are by cinematographer Francesco Di Giacomo, none of these add anything to the story. Binoche (seen most recently in Clouds of Sils Maria) delivers another fine performance in a role that is heavily dependent upon expression, body language and movement rather than dialogue, while de Laage (Breathe) is yet another product of a seemingly endless production line of French actresses blessed with talent and beauty.
When a film opens with a downward sweep of Jesus on the cross that culminates with a mourner kissing the feet of the statue, you get the sense that a sedate, sombre tale is going to follow. In that respect, The Wait delivers, moving at a funereal pace, the action interspersed with meaningful (?) silences that don’t really deliver any answers for the characters or the audience. Yes, the performances are good and the locale is exquisite, but it is so hard to invest any emotional energy in either of these women because we never really get to understand what makes them tick.