L’ATTESA, drama, not rated, in Italian and French with subtitles, The Screen, 2.5 chiles
“I think that life is a very sad piece of buffoonery; because we have in ourselves, without being able to know why, wherefore or whence, the need to deceive ourselves constantly by creating a reality.” — Luigi Pirandello
The movie opens on a crucifix, and widens to show that we are in church at a funeral. Anna (Juliette Binoche) stands behind a coffin as solemn mourners pass by. Her son is dead, under circumstances we never learn. Anna’s face is a mask of pain, but it is controlled, composed.
Back at home, she lies in the darkness on her bed, numb with grief. Home, where most of this movie takes place, is her estate in a remote part of Sicily. The phone rings. She answers, listens. This is where we begin to get a sense that time is going to be elongated here; she listens for far longer than the person at the other end could possibly be talking in this call, which turns out to be from Jeanne (the lovely Lou de Laâge, of Breathe), her son’s girlfriend. “No, he’s not here,” she mutters. And then, “Yes, come.”
Jeanne has come from Paris for Easter weekend at the invitation of Giuseppe, the son. Anna’s caretaker Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli) is dispatched to the airport to pick her up. Anna does not greet her that night. In the morning, with the house full of mourners, Anna explains to Jeanne that her brother has died. Guiseppe, she says, will be home by Sunday.
As the weekend drags on, Anna refuses to tell Jeanne that it’s actually Giuseppe who is dead. “I’m waiting for the right time to tell her,” she says evasively. Pietro glowers disapprovingly in the background, but Anna seems to feel that as long as there is someone who believes Giuseppe is still alive, there is a place in which he still lives.
There has been some trouble between the lovers — perhaps an infidelity, we never find out — but Jeanne hopes they can put it behind them. She keeps calling Giuseppe’s phone, leaving long messages, and continuing to do so despite their never being returned. Giuseppe’s phone, we discover, is in Anna’s possession, and she listens to the messages.
There’s plenty of religious metaphor in the wait for Easter Sunday, plenty of long silences, some intervals of bonding, and even some lightness between the two women. Eventually, when Anna sits Jeanne down to tell her the truth, it is something entirely different that comes out.
The story is adapted from a 1923 Pirandello play, The Life I Gave You, which I have seen described as unplayable today. In this rendering, it plays, but along a limited tonal range. Director Piero Messina (he was Paolo Sorrentino’s assistant director on The Great Beauty) makes his feature debut in slow motion, but with arresting visuals and plenty of assurance. His next should be worth the wait. — Jonathan Richards
Don’t ask, don’t tell: Juliette Binoche