The Lost Daughter (Review)
Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) is a college professor on holiday in Greece. She seems to have picked the right spot since its isolation allows her to relax and catch up on her work, which she brought a lot of as the caretaker (Ed Harris) of her rental can attest since he brought in her bags filled with books that nearly killed him. The tranquility is swatted away when a family arrives, the whole extended family, bringing with them the cries and shouts of children playing and fighting and adults conversing. Leda's mood turns sour and she and the group get off on the wrong foot as they ask her to move from her spot so that they could be together and she refuses.
Leda's animosity towards the family turns to fascination as she observes a young mother from the family, Nina (Dakota Johnson), handle her infant daughter. The daughter's consistent need for attention and Nina's limited patience relights old memories of when Leda was a young mother. These memories run parallel to the story of Leda and as she and the audience revisits them we see how her past affects her actions on the island.
This is an impressive directorial debut by the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. She took a complex story, adapted from the Italian author Elena Ferrante's novel of the same name, and kept the essence of it without sweetening it up. Motherhood has this glowing and top of the pedestal platform in society yet there hasn't been many instances in film that shows the weight of this responsibility the mother has to endure or how it affects the chooses in her life. We watch the young Leda (a wonderful Jessie Buckley) as she navigates the academic world of Italian Literature. She already has two young daughters and a husband. We see early on that Leda's daughters are obstacles to her needs. There is no explanation as to why Leda is married so early in life or why they decided to have children or whether the children were "mistakes." Its irrelevant. "The Lost Daughter" is about the mother's individuality. What does she gain and lose in her life when she has children? Does she give up her passions or callings. For Leda she doesn't. She decides to care for herself. There are no regrets. Doing her work on that solitary Greek hideaway she is a content woman. But the relationships she has with her daughters is another thing.
Ms. Colman is a force in "The Lost Daughter." She and Ms. Gyllenhaal are not interested in making her sympathetic. She's her own woman who's not interested in acquiescing toward other people's opinion of her. We see her already self-made. When her memories are triggered by Nina her actions are questionable and trigger a tension between her and the family that escalates the drama for "The Lost Daughter."
The real treat is watching Ms. Buckley. There is a struggle inside herself as she juggles her passions and children. She is brilliant showing the give and take for each and finally what it was that made her choose her path. Her story is the story of the film. Ms. Colman's piece is a story of has reconciled with the past and what is her involvement with the family that invaded her vacation.
Ms. Gyllenhaal had some great talent to work with but did a fantastic job of getting them all on the same page. Being an actress herself it's no surprise the acting in "The Lost Daughter" is exciting. The only minor complaint is early on when she brings her camera up close on Ms. Colman as she feels out her new digs. It's the handheld camera that shakes as it moves with the actor similarly to how the Bourne series shot their action sequences. It's so close to Ms. Colman's head you feel you're getting the point of view of a mosquito in the room. There's no reason for it just as there was no reason for it in the Bourne series. As an actress you would think that Ms. Gyllenhaal would film all of the character as to get the sense of her isolation and to show Ms. Colman's "instrument" as she feels her way in this new environment. This technique was distracting but minimally so. This is a powerful movie with powerful performances and an original film.