Making his feature length debut, Italian filmmaker Piero Messina presents the meticulously crafted The Wait, a dark study of grief that takes a simplistic narrative and executes it deftly, helped along tremendously by the sheer brilliance of the revered French actress Juliette Binoche.
Binoche plays Anna, performing, for the most part, in Italian, who is doing what no mother should ever have to do, in putting her son to rest. Giuseppe’s untimely death spreads fast around the town, but when his girlfriend Jeanne (Lou de Laage) arrives from Paris, to stay with her boyfriend and meet his mother, she is blissfully unaware as to what has occurred. Anna knows deep down she must break the news – constantly under the scrutinising eye of housekeeper Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli), yet the bereaving mother can’t face up to the reality of the situation, and so makes the mistake of pretending that Giuseppe is still alive, and returning home in a mere few days – and Jeanne is prepared to wait.
The Wait is an intriguing, unique take on the notion of grief, as while initially we’re to believe that Anna is keeping this secret purely to protect Jeanne and avoid inflicting such immense pain on her, it soon becomes apparent that she’s doing this as a means of papering over her own suffering. By pretending it hasn’t happened, and still referring to her son in the present tense, she is able to push the tragedy to the back of her mind. It’s through this the viewer is able to empathise with Anna, and while fully aware that she’s in the wrong and withholding such information is a cruel thing to do, seeing her smile, for the first time, makes it hard to point the finger, as you struggle to get angry at a mother vying so desperately to find any semblance of hope during such a desperate time.
Given the narrative at hand, there’s an inevitable suspense that exists too, born out of the idea of Jeanne not finding out, adding an almost Hitchcockian element to proceedings and enriching the story, turning this intimate drama, at times, into a thriller of sorts. This is enhanced by Pietro constantly moving in the shadows, always present, looking on with a judgemental eye at the situation as it unravels. Colangeli plays the role with such a conviction and sincerity, and with the impressive de Laage on board and the magnetic Binoche on form as ever, needless to say we have a full house of fine performances – and the film benefits greatly as a result.