Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Lost Daughter

Movie Name:
The Lost Daughter
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Starring: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Panos Koronis, Alba Rohrwacher, Nikos Poursanidis, Robyn Elwell, Ellie Mae Blake
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review:
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal has made her feature directorial debut, with this well received drama, an adaptation of the book by Elena Ferrante. The film follows the story of Leda, a professor whom we meet at the beginning of the film taking a vacation in Greece. She is renting a lovely apartment, and goes to the beach on her own. She soon finds herself surrounded by a series of noisy tourists, a large family with whom she has an early clash. As that relationship is  smoothed over, she is drawn to a woman in that group, the beautiful Nina who has a young daughter. As she observes the dynamics of Nina and her daughter, she recalls her own interactions with both her daughters, and the choices she made when they were growing up. When Nina's daughter momentarily disappears, Leda finds her, bringing the women together. However Leda keeps the little girl's doll hidden in her purse, since she witnessed some bizarre behavior from the little girl, which also reminded her of her daughter's behavior. As Leda continues to become more aware of Nina's relationships, the more she is reminded of her own life and where that has led her.
"The Lost Daughter" is an atypical film, in the sense that it resembles at times films made in the 70s, but without the same emotional or intellectual investment those films had. The film features a professor of literature, who quotes authors both in English and Italian (in different phases of her life as well), who lives in an academic bubble of sorts, which has rendered her somewhat maladjusted to the niceties of living with others outside of that same bubble or for that matter, has disabled her to understand people around her altogether. Her academic prowess has also turned off her ability to read those who surround her, or in some situations, hide her contempt for them. It's a film that is at its best when it lets Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson interact and shape that ambiguous relationship, one that is tinted by fascination and almost obsession, in the sense that Leda sees in the relationship Nina has with her child, some aspects of herself and her own relationships with her children, but also she witnesses Nina being so much more than she ever was. The flashback scenes with Jessie Buckley are very disconcerting, in the sense that the tribulations with the children are hammered constantly (I'd suggest Gyllenhaal look at Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" to get a sense of how to build that type of environment more effectively), on a persistently same note, and not very elegantly (yes, the girls require attention, and apparently 100% of Leda's time). Also and as the flashback's evolve, we understand Leda's unhappiness, but again seen through a prism that never tells us much about what she actually wants, even from the man she embarks on an affair with (which again seems more casually evolving, more so than emotionally resonant for the character). The film ultimately feels more like an opportunity to check a series of boxes on how to tell a story about a person who isn't necessarily likable, who is intellectually inaccessible, who made her own youthful and some may consider selfish choices, but who is herself on a journey to try to live with those choices and understand where they have led her. The topics are supple and the film is impeccably acted, particularly by Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris, it just needs to feel more grounded, less artificial and definitely less like a thesis of someone demonstrating how to do an independent film that is "important". The choice of songs for the score is terrible and distracting (yes, they're in Greece, the score has Greek songs, let's be as obvious as possible), but the cinematography from Hélène Louvart is impeccable. It's a film that tries to be many things, and ultimately a lesson that sometimes, less is definitely more.