What would you do if your loved one’s life has already slipped away from you quietly and suddenly? Would you choose to confront the dull pain in your chest and accept the fact that they are no longer in the world, or would you cling onto your imagination and believe they are still living?
For Anna, the grief-stricken mother in L’atessa, the choice is a tough one. At the start of the film, we see her dressed in solemn black, ignited by a ray of strong light, her countenance appearing stern but fragile. A trail of tears streams down her face as she stands alone, observing the guests coming to her son’s funeral. Her silenced anguish is so apparent, yet no one seems to take notice of her; somehow she has returned to a world of her own.
Ovid.tv Film Offers a Penetrating Examination of Love and Loss
Set in a grand villa in sunny Italy, the film chronicles Anna’s gradual acceptance of her son’s unexpected death and her relationship with her son’s girlfriend, Jeanne. For some obscure reasons, Anna decides to withhold the truth from Jeanne, and the two women spend some uneventful time together – although the days that they share are suffused with anxiety, sorrow, and distance.
As a stain glass window welcomes some natural light into the passageway, the spiral staircase extends its direction to the empty entrance hall. It is rather dark in the foyer, which can be seen as peculiar since the sun is shining bright on the outside. The moldy wall is decorated with intricate patterns as well as large bulks of color, and the elongated room is scattered with elegant yet old-fashioned chesterfields and wooden chairs. Several people are chatting quietly while a young boy is seen fiddling with his game console out of boredom. This is the world that Jeanne witnesses when she walks down the stairs the morning after her arrival to the villa.
Juliette Binoche’s performance as Anna is just as memorable as many other renditions of hers, in this writer’s opinion. She successfully presents a complex mother figure on screen. Anna’s strained emotions are often shown implicitly: her melancholic eyes give away her agony and her downhearted expression becomes even more evident when someone mentions her son. However, when Jeanne is around her, she tries to act friendly and cheerful. She conjures up a sincere smile when the two are conversing, and she even manages to burst into laughter on the dinner table. But deep inside, Anna is still the heartbroken mother who struggles to come to terms with her son’s death.
Time flies, and we see Anna standing among the crowds at a festival. Grotesque figures with tall white hats and flowy gowns parade through the town, torches burning in their hands; lights and candles are glittering in the dark, lighting up the night. At the same time, Jeanne finds a broken phone on her nightstand: it belonged to her boyfriend. She soon learns the truth and starts crying silently and hopelessly. You too might agree that this montage that closes the film is especially powerful. Here the two storylines overlap connecting the two women’s fate together – from the somber and lonely Anna to the devastated Jeanne, they present to us the universal sentiment of losing with dreamlike fluidity.
L’atessa is especially recommended for fans of Juliette Binoche and lovers of French cinema. However, the film does feel a bit bland in this writer’s view, perhaps due to its slow-burn nature and its plain storyline. Those who prefer films with more action or excitement may not be interested in this one.
Director: Piero Messina
Anna: Juliette Binoche
Jeanne: Lou de Laâge
For more information or to view this film, visit the Ovid.tv webpage for L’ATESSA.
Images courtesy of OVID.tv
About the Author:
Cassidy Junyi Zhou is a rising sophomore at Vassar College pursuing a B.A. in English and Film Studies. She was born and raised in Chongqing, China, a city known for its rich Bashu culture and spicy food. In her free time, Cassidy enjoys watching movies, reading, and daydreaming about having a pet cat in the future. She is currently learning French (because of her interest in French avant- garde cinema!) and trying to master the art of cooking.