DIRECTOR: Maggie Gyllenhaal

CAST: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jack Farthing, Alba Rohrwacher

RUNNING TIME: 121 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: Whilst on a trip to Greece, a troubled middle-aged woman (Colman) becomes confronted with her unnatural past…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Let’s face it, folks; we all take our own mothers for granted. Despite the caring, attentive nature they mostly seem to radiate, we never really consider how, much deeper down, they are absolutely exhausted by, and even resentful of, the responsibilities that come with being a full-time mother. It’s something that writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter brings to the surface in a revealing way that’s at times uncomfortable to absorb, but still fascinating to experience.

Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut sees her adapting the novel by Elena Ferrante, which sees middle-aged English professor Leda (Olivia Colman) travel to a remote Greek island for a working holiday. She soon becomes interested in a younger woman named Nina (Dakota Johnson), who is also staying on the island with her obnoxious and apparently dangerous family, including her young daughter who is giving her mother a hard time. It is the latter that triggers a series of flashbacks for Leda, to when she was also younger (and played by Jessie Buckley) and equally finding it difficult to raise her two attention-demanding daughters alongside her useless husband (Jack Farthing, also seen recently as another useless but considerably more high-profile father in Spencer). Such memories inspire present-day Leda to commit a questionable act that inexplicably ties her to the much younger mother – not just Nina, but her own past self as well.

It is an intriguing film that Gyllenhaal has made with The Lost Daughter, because it is one of those films which certainly likes to play its cards close to its chest, while only occasionally letting you see glimpses of its full hand, but never giving you a clear enough picture to decipher what is actually going on. Significant parts of the movie are left intentionally vague, leaving most of it down to the audience’s interpretation instead of holding your hand through its themes and messages; a smart decision, for Gyllenhaal appears to be a filmmaker who wants to inspire further conversation after they finish watching, instead of wrapping it all together in one big box. There are hints throughout, however, that point to something a bit more unnatural about not just the characters but the settings as well – zero spoilers, but some of these signs point to it being a much more focused version of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! – which, again, Gyllenhaal is apt to not entirely highlight so as to let the viewer seek out clarity for themselves.

Gyllenhaal keeps the mysterious nature of her film alive with claustrophobic close-up cinematography that keeps us firmly by Olivia Colman’s side as opposed to taking in some of the gorgeous Greek atmosphere, and subtle performances which always hint at something much more sinister brewing underneath. In what shouldn’t be a shock to anyone anymore, Olivia Colman is outstanding here, for she perfectly captures the composed remorse of someone who’s clearly gone through something bad in the past but very rarely lets those feelings come to the surface (save for one scene where she loudly and violently threatens a bunch of rowdy young men at a cinema). Likewise, it is interesting how Jessie Buckley, who is also great here, seems to be almost an entirely different character to her older counterpart; despite a couple of times when you can pick up some speech similarities, neither Colman nor Buckley really seem to fit together as two different versions of one person, and that is meant as a serious compliment. Again, Gyllenhaal’s intelligent filmmaking style makes us aware that these don’t seem like natural past-and-present versions of the same character, not just in how they look but also how they act, what they say, and why they do certain things which always contrasts heavily with one another, leaving it open to interpretation as to what the real story is underneath this seemingly idyllic Greek getaway for the character.

Surely this is a film which will be debated reasonably heavily by viewers who might have their own different ideas of the real intentions behind the story and its characters, and this is where Gyllenhaal really shines as a debut filmmaker. With The Lost Daughter, she has refused to play things safe and tie everything up in a neat bow, instead presenting the most basic of facts on-screen for us to digest, but thinly drawn onto the biggest canvas she can get her hands on so that we, the viewer, can piece together all our own ideas of what it’s all supposed to mean. She establishes herself as a thoughtful filmmaker who doesn’t underestimate the imagination or intelligence of her audience, and sets the bar high for whatever she decides to conquer next from behind the camera.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Lost Daughter is a thoughtful and fascinating drama which doesn’t offer you solid answers, but writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal is smart enough to leave things widely open for interpretation, and places some excellent performances from Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley into her wildly intriguing narrative.

The Lost Daughter will be available on Netflix from Friday 31st December 2021.

It is also now showing in select cinemas nationwide.

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