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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Piero Messina | L'attesa (The Wait)


waiting on the dead

by Douglas Messerli

 

Giacomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, Andrea Paolo Massara, and Piero Messina (based on the play La vita che ti diedi by Luigi Pirandello), Piero Messina (director) L’attesa (The Wait) / 2015, USA 2016

In the very midst of a funeral for her son, Giuseppe, grieving Anna (Juliette Binoche) receives a telephone message: her son’s girlfriend, Jeanne (Lou de Laâge) has just arrived in Sicily to be with her lover. Instead of sending the poor girl packing, Anna dispatches her servant out to pick her up, while friends and relatives gather in the darkened villa to mourn.
      Arriving in the midst of the gathering, Jeanne seems to have no comprehension as to one might be going on. Straining credulity, director Piero Messina simply provides her a room and the handyman’s explanation that Anna is not feeling well.
      The following morning Anna explains that it was her brother who has died, the first of many lies she tells the innocent girl. But the worst of her lies, which both her sister-in-law and handyman cannot forgive her, is that Giuseppe is simply not there yet, and will probably return in time for Easter celebrations.
      So begins Messina’s beautiful and somewhat haunting film, where, for reasons of her own, Anna keeps the young Jeanne on in her villa, cooking for her and even for two local boys whom Jeanne casually encounters in the nearby lake.
      In part, of course, the truly devastated mother simply must have someone young around her, and by entrapping his son’s girlfriend she clearly, psychologically speaking, believes that she still controls a part of Giuseppe life. If her refusal to face the truth is, at first, rather unbelievable, we gradually come to perceive the kind of Oedipal relationship she had with her son, as Binoche stunningly peers off into space, sucks the air out of a small inflated sunbed (presumably her son had blown up the piece with his own breath) and, finally, even has delusions of Giuseppe’s existence in the bathtub and of him joining her for the Easter festivities in the nearby village.
      Some of this, admittedly, seems to be merely confusing for the uninitiated viewer, but, of course, that same confusion washes over Jeanne, who repeatedly describes in her telephone calls, attempting to reach her missing boyfriend, that his mother is “odd.”
     Anna is far more than odd, of course, as, at moments, the film, loosely based on a play by Luigi Pirandello, veers towards the kind of haunted tale wherein the young heroine is being toyed with by a lunatic. Indeed, when Anna attempts to tell Jeanne another half-truth, that her son is not coming back and has gone away permanently, she suggests that the girl herself is responsible, that he has left because of “what happened last summer.” Clearly, Anna has been listening in to her son’s telephonic messages.
      We never do find out what really happened to the couple “last summer,” nor do we ever discover the cause of Giuseppe’s death. But we can conjecture that Jeanne may have been temporarily unfaithful and that Giuseppe, perhaps entrapped in the extremely close relationship with his mother, committed suicide. Obviously such conjectures are beside the point. Messina brilliantly keeps us guessing. But such imaginative explanations might at least explain some of the extreme grief we see in Anna’s lovely face. But at the same time, in slowing down the film to near stasis, we cannot help, like the girl, but become restless and impatience with all the mystery. Even the girl’s daily swims have the languorous look of a drowning instead of a refreshing dive into the lovely waters. 
       Through the handyman’s help—he purposely places Anna’s pocket phone within reach of the girl—Jeanne finally does uncover the mother’s own pleas to her son to pick up the phone and respond, presumably after he was already dead. 
       Jeanne, predictably, is quite destroyed by the discovery; but as she turns to leave this “odd” woman, she nonetheless forgives her for her behavior. The visit has turned her from an innocent waif into a mature woman, who obviously will behave less casually in the future. Certainly, she will never again make a surprise trip to a future lover’s home.

Los Angeles, May 2, 2016

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