Thursday, April 28, 2016

L’Attesa (The Wait): Easter with Juliette Binoche

A young man has died, leaving behind a saintly mother and a morally compromised girlfriend. Does that give you any kind of archetypal inklings? How about the fact it takes place in the days leading up to Easter? Giuseppe is dead, but who knows? Giuseppe just might come again in Piero Messina’s L’Attesa (The Wait) (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The details are sketchy (better get used to that), but the upshot is clear. Anna is devastated by her son’s premature death. She had resigned herself to her grief until Jeanne comes knocking. Evidently, Giuseppe invited his French ex for Easter before his destiny took a tragic turn. Clearly unaware of his death, she eagerly hopes to patch up their relationship. Instead of breaking the bad news, Anna lets her continue to expect Giuseppe’s imminent arrival. It sounds terribly cruel, but it seems to allow Anna to feel some sort of connection to her son through the stunningly unintuitive Jeanne.

Nobody wants to call Jeanne an idiot, but she walks in on the funeral reception without picking up on any mournful vibes. Still, it should be conceded Anna is quite persuasive. Like any Sicilian mother (in her case, formerly French), she will serve up plenty of food for Jeanne.

Juliette Binoche is at the top of a short list of maybe two, who could play Anna with the grace and dignified reserve she demands. We can see how deeply she is hurting and how loathe she is to show it. On the other hand, Lou de Laâge is an open book, broadcasting her yearnings and insecurities with the fervency of youth. Those contrasts play well together in their many shared scenes.

Having served as assistant director on The Great Beauty, Messina is often considered a protégé of Paolo Sorrentino. You can see Messina has a similar affinity for bold visuals, particularly the grand, sweeping tracking shot. However, the effect on viewers is mostly distancing in L’Attesa rather than giddily intoxicating, as in Beauty. Regardless, Francesco Di Giacomo’s cinematography is wonderfully lush and heavy with the suggestion of otherworldliness.

Messina also builds to an is-it-or-isn’t climax that ought to be intriguing for its ambiguity but is really just frustratingly coy. Frankly, so many films have led us down this opened-ended road before, most cineastes would find concrete certainty much more interesting and novel.

Still, there is Juliette Binoche, riveting as always. While she does not reach the lofty heights of Blue, Flight of the Red Balloon, Certified Copy, or Clouds of Sils Maria that is largely due to L’Attesa’s weaker script, credited to Messina and a trio of co-screenwriters: Giacomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, and Andrea Paolo Massara. It is all a bit over-ripe, but at least Messina and his cast are reaching for something. Recommended for Binoche’s fans, L’Atessa or The Wait or whatever they’re calling it on the marquee opens tomorrow (4/29) in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine.