Posted Date: 2022 03 03 - 2 Hours 1 Min
A woman's beach vacation takes a dark turn when she begins to confront the troubles of her past.
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Writers: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elena Ferrante
Stars: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard,
The Lost Daughter (2021)
Dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal
“The hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves don’t understand.” – Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter.
In an age where unconditional motherly love is inevitably frequent in cinema; Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Oscar-bound directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, tells the story of an unprecedented alternative: maternal ambivalence. Based on the novel by Elena Ferrante, the film follows the seemingly innocent summer getaway of an Italian literature professor, Leda (Olivia Colman), as she takes a rather unpleasant stroll down memory lane on the beaches of Greece. She finds herself in a place she's never been in before—her daughters have grown up, Leda is finally free to live without the burden of supporting the lives she created. As her monotonous holiday begins to take a peculiar turn, she finds she is forced to confront her own past after a struggling millennial mother on the beach appears to reflect Leda’s younger self.
In a refreshing contrast from a majority of Hollywood melodramas depicting the sacrifice and unerring love of a mother for her children, Gyllenhaal tells of Leda’s journey through a raw, empathetic lens free-of-judgment while dealing with an oddly controversial view on motherhood.
From start to finish, Olivia Colman executed her leading role faultlessly alongside beloved co-star Dakota Johnson. Capturing Leda’s complex perspective on her own history was a difficult task for both Gyllenhaal and Colman to achieve on and off-screen; future (hopeful) award nominees aside, this was attained beautifully. The melodic jazz score composed by Dickon Hinchcliffe creates a suspense factor otherwise nonexistent in Ferrante’s relatively mellow narrative. Perhaps a personal spin for her writing debut as well, Gyllenhaal takes an originally insightful look into an aging mother’s psyche and transforms it into an eerie commentary on Leda’s holiday getaway, filled with anticipatory apprehension.
With impressive introductions out of the way, it must be discussed that certain aspects of this film couldn’t help but feel exaggerated for an alternative or almost unnecessarily suspenseful effect. It can be questioned whether or not this narrative even required a haunting facet at all when being adapted. Stories such as Leda’s are sometimes best left to their pages rather than a screen.
Though for a novel containing only a handful of dialogue in itself, Gyllenhaal’s achievement in maintaining the purposeful nature of words—used sparingly, always with meaning—must be acknowledged fairly despite the few apparent flaws. Many of the interactions in the film are simply that of Leda observing others; taking in their body language and behaviors to piece together their lives from afar. This is the case when she meets the young mother on the beach, Nina (Johnson), who immediately grasps her attention for the duration of her trip, and the film as well. Floaty, slightly unguided cinematography allows us to view the blurry image of Nina’s life through enlightened eyes as she attempts to get to know this woman without direct contact. The conflicting relationship between Leda’s maternal instinct and her reluctance to face her past decisions serves as the unspoken battle occurring throughout The Lost Daughter.
All in all, while this may not be a film suited for everyone, Gyllenhaal certainly did not disappoint on her first run behind the camera. Leda serves as a depiction of the emotional turmoil motherhood can inflict on young women, despite the fleeting joys of baby giggles and first words. The Lost Daughter was made for those faced with the burden of still discovering the extent of themselves while also holding responsibility for another.