Some films are not made for the masses. Italian director Piero Messina’s (first feature film) The Waiting is just that type of film. It is a film light on dialogue and heavy on silent long, static shots involving beautiful Sicilian scenery or one of the two lead actresses. The atmosphere is a mysterious and heavy one. Light moments are few and far between. You have to be willing to go through all that to enjoy the film for what it is.
At a large house in the countryside in Sicily the family is obviously going through a wake. Everyone there is in black and silence rules. The older caretaker is going through the many rooms and covering mirrors with a black drape. Anna (Juliette Binoche – Chocolat, The English Patient) is at the centre of the mourning. She has isolated herself from all that is going on by grieving by herself in her room.
That night the phone rings. Anna gets out of bed to answer it. She has a short conversation with someone. Tells them she is Giuseppe’s mother and that they should come despite the fact that he is not there. We find out the person on the other end of the conversation is a young woman named Jeanne (Lou de Lâage – The Innocents, Breathe). She is Giuseppe’s girlfriend. At the airport she is collected by the older caretaker, Pietro (Giorgio Colangeli – Il Divo). Anna does not come out of her room to greet her.
We figure out that the wake that happened was for Giuseppe. Anna greets Jeanne and speaks to her, but does not inform her that her boyfriend is dead. Instead she says he is away because Anna’s brother died and that he will be back for Easter, which is a couple of days away. Jeanne agrees to wait for Giuseppe’s return.
Jeanne does leave some messages on Giuseppe’s mobile phone. Anna has the phone in her possession and is able to listen to the messages. Over their couple of days together the two women, despite the secret between them, form a kind of friendship. The secret Anna keeps and her relationship with Jeanne seems to keep her son alive in her mind.
Most films use plot as the method to get the viewer into the story. Such is not the case with The Waiting. More often than not photographic techniques are used to convey the story. Every visual means something and it is up to the viewer to figure out what because precious little is explained or laid out for us. Most of the time there is precious little going on or what is happening is going on inside the head of the characters. Dialogue is scarce. During the many long silent shots it is only a facial expression or body language that gives us some hint as to what is going on. This demands plenty of the actors and an equal amount of the viewer. Patience is a virtue and a necessity with this film.
Anna’s inability to tell Jeanne the truth is at the centre of the film. The grief of the character is conveyed by Binoche via her face. This is how she is tasked with getting across Anna’s grief at losing her only son. Much is asked of Juliette Binoche and she is up to the challenge. Her face becomes a canvas upon which the story is painted.
The film’s theme of resurrection comes out at the very end. Again it is not all laid out for you. Work has to be done. The Italian Easter ceremony/parade gives us something to chew upon and coupled with a scene in the bathroom between Anna and Giuseppe fills in the blanks. You the viewer go through an awakening at the same time as the characters.
As previously stated, this is not a film for everyone. The slow pace of the amping up of the tension due to the secret Anna is keeping will lose many before the payoff, which is not a real and evident payoff. It is a psychological thriller that happens within the mind of the female lead. Just outside the grasp of the viewer.