The title of this film refers to the wait for essential information to be revealed. Anna (Juliette Binoche) is grieving her recently deceased son from a tragic accident, but his oblivious fiancée, Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), arrives at her posh and luxurious Italian estate, with Anna informing her that he will be back soon. Jeanne is waiting for someone who will never come, Anna is waiting for the time when Jeanne can be told the truth, and the audience is also waiting for this penultimate moment (if it even ever comes at all).
There’s so much emotional resonance for first-time director Piero Messina to tap into and he successfully fills out the whole film deliberately teasing out these intriguing character dynamics. This gives ample time for this mother and daughter-in-law to get to know each other, with Jeanne obliviously boasting her bubbly persona all the while unaware that Anna is in deep mourning. However, the level of suspicion from Jeanne grows as Anna’s lies about the son’s whereabouts become more complex, as conveyed through de Laâge’s slightly growingly apprehensive visage as she continues to question her new-found relationship with Anna.
The film makes no grand statements, but it seems obvious for two reasons why Anna withholds this important information – firstly, she does not have the emotional courage to admit to her son’s lover that he has died, and secondly she uses the company of Jeanne as something of an offspring surrogate for her son. This is a heartbreaking concept that is as unspoken as it is morally questionable, though any judgement towards Anna is assuaged somewhat by Binoche’s internally conflicted demeanour that is able to subtly invite sympathy and understanding towards her troubling actions – that’s at least how I interpreted her work, though Anna’s actions are likely to divide reactions amongst viewers.
This concept leads to some scenes that elaborate on the disparity of information between Anna and Jeanne. Anna has something of an advantage as she holds onto her son’s phone, eavesdropping on Jeanne’s voicemail messages to him, where she gathers information on Jeanne’s slight hesitance towards Anna, as well as her exasperation towards her fiancé because of his absence. But then Anna’s deceptions have an emotional backlash against her when Jeanne invites two men, similarly aged to the son, to the estate and lightly parties with them, showing how she is (similarly to Anna) using them as stand-in company for her fiancé during his absence. Seeing Jeanne dance with these men has an emotional toll on Anna, not only because the men remind her of her son, but she can see from an outsider’s perspective the kind of manipulation she herself is conducting.
This story may sound so slight as if it would be more suited for a short film, but the paced-out deception Anna divulges makes The Wait live up to its title as a slow-paced journey of internal discovery that makes it all the more absorbing and involving. The slow nature of the film manages to evoke the arduous grieving process and how it has been lengthened for Anna because of her own lies.
As the enduring story demands, the film’s slow pacing allows the viewers to bask in the varied cinematography, which shoots the luscious nature landscapes surrounding Anna’s Italian estate that she and Jeanne occasionally trek through, as well as the incredibly dark, shadowed, minimalist areas of the closed-off indoor settings. The Wait is a carefully and beautifully constructed film in all aspects, with the delicate acting, the pristine cinematography, the tender editing, and the overall direction from Messina all work in harmony to shape this morally intriguing new drama.