The Wait (L’attesa) (2016)

90 The Wait

Plot and character are the classic drivers of cinema but there are other forces of equal impact. Some films are driven more by what does not happen than what does, and photographic technique can transform inaction into deep meaning. This is the case in The Wait (2016), a film title that describes both the story’s narrative arc and how it will be experienced by most viewers. Long silent close-ups that record little more than an eyebrow muscle tightening or the strands of hair on a neck are used to convey emotional power of surprising intensity.

Based entirely on the interaction between two women and the inability of one to reveal a painful truth to the other, the plot and character range is unusually sparse. The story opens with a funeral and the palpable raw grief on the face of a mother who has lost a son. Anna (Juliette Binoche) is in a deep dark place when she takes a call from beautiful young Jeanne (Lou de Laage) who asks why her son Giuseppe did not meet her at the airport. Anna invites Jeanne to wait for him at the Sicilian family villa, knowing he will never come. The pair move from a strained and awkward start to a warm friendship, all the while with Jeanne confused and Anna struggling with suppressed emotional turmoil. Anna has Giuseppe’s cell phone and listens to Jeanne’s desperate calls to her son, but withholding the truth gives him a tangible presence that keeps him alive and eases Anna’s pain. For as long as she can gaze upon Jeanne, she can see through her dead son’s eyes and share his delight in her innocence and charm.

This story rests entirely on the extraordinary ability of its two stars to convey the full gamut of emotion with total authenticity. The face of Binoche in particular is like a canvas onto which she paints every colour of the rainbow, with subtle shifts of expression that span joyful laughter to the very edge of sanity. Many viewers will find this a difficult film to watch because of the gradually escalating tension created by Anna holding back the truth from Jeanne, and this transforms the drama into a psychological thriller. It is impossible not to judge Anna or not to consider how we would handle such a situation, and this self-reflective process only heightens tensions both inside the film and within ourselves. The performances could easily have slipped into a melodrama, but instead, the minimalist dialogue and slow pace creates an open space into which is hung a finely wrought portrait of parental grief.


Director: Piero Messina

Stars: Juliette Binoche, Lou de Laage, Giorgio Colangeli