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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

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