Toronto 2015: 'The Waiting Room' review

★★★☆☆
Igor Drljača's The Waiting Room (2015) bears no little resemblance to its cowed protagonist, Jasmin (Jasmin Geljo). A sad clown of a man, both he and the film spend much of their time patiently observing the passing of a frustrated life, devoid of narrative incident but drowning in regret and preoccupations with self-worth, the nature of performance, and a country long since left behind. Blending in elements of Geljo's own life this is a mournful character study, liberally peppered with awkward humour, that frames the emigre experience through the lens of a tired actor with many parts to play and nothing to sink his teeth into. Of course, the irony of that very fact is Geljo being afforded the opportunity to do just that.

Geljo's Jasmin provides Drljača's film with its essential centre of gravity, excelling in the variety of subtly different roles that he has to inhabit; from endeavouring father to compassionate ex-husband and absent son. There's particular fun to be had in one of Jasmin's auditions as he labours through a painfully scripted exchange. Having been asked to throw in some words in his native tongue, he takes the opportunity to stealthily voice his bilious disdain for the writing and the director - nailing the audition in the process, naturally. Beneath the chuckles, however, the scene is also offering a pointed comment about both the perception and projection of immigrant populations.

Throughout the film the action keeps returning to a particular job that Jasmin is doing - one that seems to skew most closely to his natural state. He is playing the father in a piece that charts a car journey through the Croatian countryside bordering Bosnia in the early nineties. His numb expression inscrutable, it is clear that such a journey - in the same make of car, no less - was an intrinsic and deeply upsetting part of Jasmin's own flight. In various ways he attempts to rekindle former glories, particularly through recitals for other Bosnian ex-pats of the drag queen shtick that he used to be known for in his home country. Even this cannot stave off his ennui, though, and Roland Echavarria photographs him in what are often long, static takes allowing the melancholy to slowly form in the creases of his weathered face. Even when The Waiting Room seems not to be saying anything, Jasmin expresses so much - in expressing so little - as to utterly beguile.

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from 10-20 September 2015. For more coverage, follow this link.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson

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