Juliette Binoche continues to astound me with her ability to not only find the most complicated and deep roles, but to bring them to life with a captivating performance. Recent films such as “Clouds of Sils Maria,” and “1,000 Times Good Night” are just two examples where she exhibited absolute brilliance and the new “L’attesa (“The Wait”) continues this trend.
A heavy darkness overlays the opening scene with somber faces as we begin to understand the gravity of the situation. Anna (Binoche) is grieving the loss of her son Giuseppe—a mother’s worst nightmare has come to reality. In the day that follows, Giuseppe’s girlfriend Jeanne (Lou de Laage) whom Anna has never met, appears at the door, unaware of the tragedy that has occurred. Understandably, it is difficult for Anna to grasp this loss, but with her inability to do so, she strings Jeanne along as if Giuseppe will be returning soon. As the two spend time together, the psychological underpinnings begin to unhinge in the most excruciating yet subtle ways.
“L’atessa” brilliantly captures the psychological breakdown of a mother’s loss as we watch Anna attempt to recapture the happiness she had when Giuseppe was alive. She can keep him alive in her memory and with Jeanne by keeping his death under wraps. Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli), the housekeeper, plays an important role in Anna’s denial and acceptance, in an understated way. As we wait for the proverbial shoe to drop, the range of emotions within our own heart catapults and plummets with every ineraction between Anna and Jeanne.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Binoche’s expressions are a priceless original Renoir. She is a master of depicting every thought and emotion with just a subtle change in her eyes, a twitch in her lip, or a pause in her voice. With not a word uttered, we understand her motivations behind her actions, even if we don’t agree with them. The dialogue and discomfort between Anna and Jeanne is palpable, creating an atmosphere wrought with unspoken anxiety. de Laage’s portrayal of the young and insecure Jeanne equals Binoche’s performance. The two balance each other with yin-yang perfection. Anna’s wisdom and superiority that comes with age, takes advantage of the memory of being Jeanne’s inexperienced age and open heart. Both of these characters are strikingly complex with the many layers of who they truly are being exposed bit by bit.
“L’attesa” integrates superb cinematography and lighting to capture each emotional scene. The set design, stark and oftentimes dark, reflects not only the situation but the internal emotional state as well. Camera angles, particularly the wide shots, give way to the feeling of infinity—the never-ending pain Anna will endure. The religious overtones throughout the film parallel the story of Christ as the film takes place over the Easter holiday. Light shining through the stained glass window, the unveiling of the Virgin Mary, the betrayal of Pietro, and many other references, correlate beautifully with this tragic story.
“L’attesa” is a hauntingly powerful film that harnesses the psychological heartbreak and subsequent process of acceptance of the death of a son. Beautifully filmed and deftly directed, the passionate performances bring this complicated story into clear focus. It’s one of the most beautiful and emotionally gripping films I have seen this year.
“L’attesa” is playing at the Siskel Film Center beginning Friday, June 24th. For a schedule or to purchase tickets, go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org/lattesa