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The quiet torture of unspeakable grief

  • 30 June 2016



The Wait (M). Director: Piero Messina. Starring: Juliet Binoche, Lou de Laâge, Giorgio Colangeli. 100 minutes

This engrossing Italian film proffers an unsettling rumination upon the rituals of mourning, and upon a mode of grief which itself is a kind of death. Prone to moments of almost surreal, hyper-stylisation, it is a film of long silences and dark corners not quite reached by the relieving light of day. It is a film where immense stillness shrouds a chaos of emotions and psychological disturbance.

It opens with a sweeping close-up of an imposing crucifix, and the fine musculature of a graven Christ. An enshrouded figure emerges from shadows to kiss its feet. A mass of mourners is then revealed, and before them a woman, immobile and weeping silently. The camera angle cuts to calf level, to reveal a trail of urine more copious than her tears, running down her leg to her shoes.

From this distressing image, we are transported to a cavernous villa in Sicily, where the woman, Anna (Binoche), is ensconced. Here the director Messina and his cinematographer Francesco Di Giacomo favour long, still shots, the scenes framed with an imposing symmetry; this is an environment whose shape is etched by fate, within which Anna and the few other inhabitants drift listlessly.

Soon a young woman arrives, Jeanne (de Laâge). She is the girlfriend of Anna's son, Giuseppe, and has come to meet him, at his invitation. But he is not there. Anna invites her to wait for him, and to excuse the general morbid mood in the household. Her brother, she explains, has recently died.


"This is a woman acquainted with loss gazing covetously at the embodiment of pristine, transient youth."


Jeanne takes Giuseppe's absence and forestalled return as a rebuff, as the two have recently fought. She leaves him tearful and intimate voicemail messages, and dutifully awaits his return. But there is more to Giuseppe's absence than has been revealed; a secret of which neither Anna, nor her longtime groundskeeper Pietro (Colangeli), seems willing to speak.

Anna and Jeanne come to know each other over the coming days; to the extent that either is willing to let herself be known. Yet the unspoken secret (and I'll not speak it here either) hangs oppressively over all, creating an agonising suspense not because it is a mystery (at least not to the viewer), but because we both long for and dread the mortifying catharsis threatened by