Toronto: Italian Director Piero Messina On His Sicily-Set ‘The Wait’ And Working With Juliette Binoche

Italian director Piero Messina’s Sicily-set bereavement drama “The Wait” makes it’s North American debut in Toronto today, after world-preeming positively in Venice. Praised by Variety Chief International Film Critic Peter Debruge as a “cinematically dazzling debut,” “The Wait” stars Juliette Binoche as a single mother mourning the sudden death of her son in a remote Sicilian villa. A young woman played by Lou de Laage bursts in unexpectedly, claiming to be the son’s lover. “The Great Beauty” producer Nicola Giuliano shepherded the pic, which marks the feature film debut of Messina, who served as Sorrentino’s assistant on “Beauty.”

“The Wait” is a very ambitious first feature. How long did you have to wait to make it?

It took a long time, and a lot of work. It took us nearly four years of writing before I gave the first draft of the script to Nicola Giuliano. And I had written like twenty previous unfinished drafts. So that was the first strength of the project: it was quite well thought out. Previously I had done plenty of shorts, and I’d had several earlier opportunities to debut with different producers, but I’d always refused saying: ‘when I do it I want it to be my ideal debut.’ I waited a long time for the ideal conditions to come about. One evening I read the draft and I said: that’s the movie I want to make.’ It was very clear.’

The screenplay is a four-hander; not so usual, especially in Italy.

We wrote it when I was at film school at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale, when we were all non-pros. So we learned as we went along; several of the drafts we wrote were for completely different films, including a costumer. I still have all these screenplays. A couple of years ago I read them all and decided to draw from them for that definitive draft.

From a production standpoint do you think Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar for “The Great Beauty” helped Nicola Giuliano mount “The Wait” with top talent like Juliette Binoche and top notch production values?

Nicola’s cachet certainly helped rapidly mount this film, which is not low-budget. He did it in six months. But what was key in getting Juliette was co-producer Fabio Conversi, who knew her. That said, the production wasn’t mounted thanks to her. She came on board relatively late in the game.

You are being identified in the press as Sorrentino’s assistant, and the reviews have also pointed out common aesthetic aspects. Does this bother you? After all, every director usually wants to have a distinctive identity.

Initially I didn’t mind. But now that the film is out, even though I’m not reading the press, it’s starting to bug me a bit. Not that I mind being compared to Paolo, and there are certainly things in common because I admire his work; but not just his work, I love Sokurov as well, just to cite another director who was in Venice. What bugs me are critics and journalists perceiving the film through this Sorrentino prism. It’s bad for the film and for all the work I put into it.

One of the things I liked about “The Wait” was Juliette Binoche’s understated performance. How did you direct her?

I’m glad you asked, because people are underlining the visual aspect of “The Wait,” but what I’m really obsessed with is working with actors. It was strange and beautiful working with Juliette. We met for lunch after she read the screenplay and we hit it off. But since neither my English nor my French are very good, it was also a quite no bullshit essential conversation. When she came on set, the first two days did not go so well, and I was very direct about it with her and this created tension. On day two I kicked the troupe off the set and told her she was not controlling her character’s pain. She replied: ‘I don’t act; I am.’ But that much outward emotion was not right for the film. So I said: ‘we have to find a way not to lose your power but gain the control I need for the film.’ I also said: ‘Let’s shoot a scene four times before doing the real take; that way during those four preliminary takes you will let your emotions out.’ This repetition helped her internalise the pain. After a while, she told me she was very happy. She said: ’Piero, you have no idea how long it’s been since a director asked me to do more than three takes of the same shot!”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content