‘The Waiting Room’ Review: Bleak Immigrant Comedy

'The Waiting Room'

Movie Rating:

3

Sometimes there’s no greater landscape to put in front of a camera than a human face. Displaced Bosnian actor Jasmin Geljo has one of those faces. The most despairing and hilarious moments of Igor Drljaca’s ‘The Waiting Room’ play entirely off the actor’s impossibly hangdog mug, offering more emotion and meaning in unstated expressions than many actors can muster using all their physical flailing.

The movie itself is a bit of an enigma. It’s a poignant portrait of the immigrant experience that’s both painfully personal and willfully abstract. It’s a strange movie, but also an oddly beautiful and unexpectedly funny one.

Geljo plays a character who shares his name and that’s hardly a coincidence. The film is a reunion of sorts for the director and actor after 2012’s ‘Krivina’, and it’s safe to say this follow-up has been catered specifically to the actor. He plays a former Bosnian sitcom star who made his way to Toronto after fleeing his native country during wartime. He still acts, but mostly finds himself called into embarrassing auditions to play minor thug characters in idiotic movies made by disinterested directors. In between, he works menial jobs, socializes with fellow expats, and has a new wife and son to replace the family that he left behind. The boy (Filip Geljo) also hopes to act and asks his father to train him. However, generational and cultural gaps make it difficult for them to share the experience. In fact, much of the new world that Jasmin has created for himself is difficult to reconcile with his past, leading to all sorts of existential angst.

Obviously, ‘The Waiting Room’ isn’t exactly a feel-good feature filled with smiles and sunshine. It’s often rather difficult to watch as painful monologues and memories spill out from Jasmin’s mouth. However, the movie is also filled with deadpan comedy and mixes some mirth in with the misery. They frequently flow from the same place, especially the long driving sequences as Jasmin cruises through regret and memory. When the man is dressed in drag as part of a revival performance of his sitcom character, that same image takes on a little absurdity beneath the pain. Likewise, the endless auditions frequently spike up awkward laughs as the genuinely talented actor struggles through pitiful dialogue and is instructed to perform as more aggressively Bosnian than his…you know…natural Bosnian state.

It’s through sequences like these that writer/director Drljaca explores painful angles of the immigrant experience rarely seen on screen. Jasmin is a great actor and once had the opportunity to show it, but now he’s lost, in a way that could be true of his life as a whole. Drljaca’s mostly static cameras linger on every scene and image, dragging out reality and creating a visual rhythm suited to a lost soul struggling to make peace with what his life has become. The director frequently returns to a peculiar wrap-around sequence. It’s another driving scene, this time in a car on a set, as Jasmin finally gets a role suitable to his strengths. It’s unclear specifically what the film is about, but it’s set in Bosnia and clearly serves as an opportunity for the repressed performer to combine his life with his art.

That seems to mirror ‘The Waiting Room’ itself in a way. The movie is designed for an actor who’s gotten few opportunities to show his talents and now reveals them all in a difficult yet moving piece of work. This isn’t a perfect movie; it often slips into tedium and indulgence in its formal experimentation and loses its way somewhat when narrowing in on a conclusion. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating showcase for a performer and filmmaker with talent who deserved the spotlight. Even if the project only leads to a new collaboration between the pair rather than further opportunities, the duo have proven themselves to be such a uniquely intriguing combo that it will be interesting to see where their shared journey goes next.

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