What’s perhaps most moving in Waiting for August, a quiet film of weight and joy, is its sense of desperate normalcy. Newcomer Teodora Ana Mihai’s accomplished doc follows Romanian 15-year-old Georgiana’s efforts to care for six younger siblings the year that their mother, broke, leaves Bacau for work in
Italy. Georgiana’s asked to become something like a mother just as she’s beginning to feel out what it means to be a woman — and while she needs to find time to master her school’s upcoming placement test.
Mihai shows us Georgiana and the kids on the regular days. A tangle of boys heaps on the bottom tier of a bunk bed, watching the TV that’s always on, usually tuned to imported telenovelas. They play video games, cry and fight a bit, and hop about when mom calls and talks about what presents she’ll be sending home. We get to know the mother a bit through a questionnaire one of the younger boys fills out — she’s 45, she has black hair, she’s doing what she has to to keep this family fed. She’s a pervasive presence, even half a continent away, but we see her best in Georgiana’s efficient housekeeping. In girlish pink tank tops, the daughter preps meals, scrubs the piping under the sink, occasionally delegates small jobs to her charges. Thin and tiny but apparently tireless, this proto–grown-up is so thoroughly in command that it’s a shock to see her bawling when it’s her time to talk to mom — she’s in some hard-to-follow trouble
involving the angry father of a girl she’s been forbidden to hang out with. Hardy Georgiana’s still a kid, but now in charge
of bedtimes and Easter-egg coloring.
It’s one of those movies where the
easily bored will say nothing happens while the sympathetic will insist that everything does. Beneath pink cinder-block housing projects, the kids press through their days, kept in line by Georgiana and facing only minor crises: They miss mom, but get to webchat with her. The TV goes out, but they know how to hit it just so and bring it flickering back. A nun says she’s going to call social services on them, but nothing ever comes of it. None of them ever acknowledge the camera
capturing all this; they’re just crammed, not unhappily, into their smallish social-housing apartment (and Mihai’s smartly composed frames).
Georgiana dedicates herself to her schoolwork and her sisterly caretaking, but in several wonderful scenes she still manages to act her age — to revel in the aspects of herself that her life mostly has no time for. She larks off to a carnival, where a boy puts his arm around her. Later, she lounges at the pool with two girlfriends, airing richly world-weary complaints about the neediness of the Like all teens, she says aloud to her pals what she felt like saying to someone else: “Why should I care about you after seeing you once?” she asks. Her friend adds, of her guy, “He knows how long we’ve been together. I don’t.”
The film spans the better part of a year, from winter until August. Mihai shows us some great beauty: a candlelit holiday processional; the whirling lights of a fair; the way a courageous young woman, after carrying her family for all these months, is the one to lug mom’s suitcase home from the train station.
By then, you might be the one bawling.