The Wait (L’Attesa) was directed and co-written by Italian filmmaker Piero Messina. It was inspired by a story told to Messina by a friend, as well as memories of the Easter procession in Sicily that Messina saw as a child. Messina was also influenced by the play La vita che ti diedi (The Life I Gave You) and short story La camera in attesa, both by Nobel Prize winner for literature, Luigi Pirandello.
This is Messina’s first full-length film, after a number of well-received shorts including Terra, nominated for the Cinefondation Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. He studied at film school and under Paolo Sorrentino as assistant director on This Must Be The Place and the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty. The Wait was adapted from his own screenplay, after an almost four year writing process, because, says Messina, “when I do it, I want it to be my ideal debut”.
The film was shot on location in Sicily and features two French performers in the leading roles: Juliette Binoche as Anna and Lou de Laâge as Jeanne.
We quickly discover that Anna has lost her son, Giuseppe, very suddenly. He had previously arranged for his girlfriend to visit from Paris, and she arrives not long after the funeral, meeting Anna for the first time. Suspecting something is awry (not surprising when the house is full of mourners and all reflective surfaces are covered in black cloth), Anna sits Jeanne down and, on the verge of tears, explains that her brother has just died. When Jeanne demands Giuseppe’s whereabouts, Anna says he will return in time for Easter. The two women spend the ensuing days together, and we wonder just how far Anna will go to keep her secret, and the memory of her son alive.
Dialogue is at a minimum throughout the film. Messina relies heavily on the score and the performers’ expressions to portray their emotions and inner thoughts. It’s done rather well, although I would’ve liked to have seen more happen. However, in the main, the story held my interest to the end.
Anna’s dogged determination to wait for her dead son’s return pushed the boundaries of belief at times, but the film did come to a satisfying conclusion. The character of Anna was in expert hands with Binoche and de Laâge gave depth and youthful energy to her role as the naive girlfriend.
When I attended the screening at Somerville, a Q&A session had been organised with Messina, in Perth for his film’s Australian debut. He had a most interesting discussion with Mark Naglazas from The West Australian, via an interpreter. They discussed his process, experiences with Sorrentino and Sean Penn, star of This Must Be The Place (“he works really hard to be that good”), music (Messina has a background as a musician, and has composed the scores of all his work to date), and his turbulent relationship with Binoche. Messina said, “sound is the most important part of the movie”, and the inspiration for the film’s images often came to him from sounds. He admitted fault in regards to composing; while he wants to give other musicians the chance to compose, they just never seem to write it how he wants. Messina is a particular character indeed.
Naglazas was determined to speak about Binoche, and after some pressing Messina was forthcoming, as Binoche had spoken about the incidents herself at a French screening of the film. Apparently she announced in the early days of shooting, “I don’t act; I am,” and refused to take direction. They were conversing in English, which Messina says was partly to blame for the upset (an interpreter would have been useful then, too). However, they managed to push through and found a ‘method’ that worked for them: she could do what she wanted for five takes, and after that would follow Messina’s direction. It can’t have all been bad, because they are working together again on a future project.
The Wait is a touching film about hope, and a strong debut from a filmmaker who is definitely one to watch. The setting and the images themselves are beautifully shot; they alone merit the price of the ticket.
The Wait is now showing as part of Lotterywest Festival Films, Season 2. At UWA Somerville nightly until Sunday 7 February, then at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday 9 to Sunday 14 February. Tickets/more info: perthfestival.com.au