“The Lost Daughter” review: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brilliant thriller

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First a little girl goes missing, then her doll, in “The Lost Daughter”, a daring psychological drama in which what should have been an idyllic summer vacation on the Greek island of Spetses becomes more of a kind of training. emotional late for the character of Olivia Colman. , Leda, who collapses on the beach, bleeding from her abdomen in the opening scene. How these two disappearances could result in such a dire fate is one of the mysteries of the film, although more convincing is why this woman reacts to the incidents the way she does, shocked to be confronted with her own conduct as that married and parented many years earlier.

“I’m an unnatural mother,” Leda says at one point, saying aloud what women are generally not allowed to admit about motherhood – that such a precious gift can be an unwelcome burden for some. , and that by extension, not everyone is cut out for the job – in a film that gives anyone who has experienced it a rare sense of being seen. This gift, as ragged and potentially confrontational as it may be, is first-time director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s offering to audiences accustomed to a more conventional portrayal of the female experience – and also that of Italian author Elena. Ferrante (“My Brilliant Friend”), who first had the nerve to put the unspeakable on paper in the tight but insightful novel from which “The Lost Daughter” was adapted.

Gyllenhaal recognized herself in Ferrante’s words, at least that’s what she said, probably just as Leda sees herself reflected – both the same and unknowably different – in the character of Nina (played by Dakota Johnson ). As an actress, the “Sherrybaby” star has challenged conventional notions of what a “good mother” can be, but with this film she dives even deeper into those waters, demonstrating that her instincts are. also deep and uneasy behind the camera. as they do on screen.

It helps that Gyllenhaal – who doesn’t appear in the movie but breeds aspects of herself among her female characters – found two formidable substitutes for Colman and Jessie Buckley, who play older and younger versions of the movie. main character, an Italian academic who turns to Spetses for a “working holiday”. Leda possesses the kind of intellect that never rests but is easily distracted, which made multitasking motherhood difficult with her job as a poetry translator when her children were young and hungry for attention. (An inspired match, Buckley plays the exasperated Leda in those stuffy flashbacks.)

Now in her late forties and single, Leda does her best to slip into the laid back atmosphere of the island, flirting with both the older handyman (Ed Harris) who runs his rental apartment and the handsome bartender (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) down at the beach. Leda likes to think she still has it, even though she clearly doesn’t intend to follow either man’s attention.

She’s an avid people watcher, and while sunbathing one afternoon, she spots Nina, an incredibly attractive young mother accompanied by a disruptive clan of Mafia in-laws. It’s hard to know exactly what Leda might be thinking – it’s part of the power of the film, leaving just enough space for audiences to project their own interpretations. Is it envy or admiration that she feels? But she can’t look away; she is practically indiscreet in her curiosity, a curiosity that Colman intuitively conveys through his body language.

The film is peppered with flashbacks – unresolved guilt trips, really, still sharp enough to slash fingertips when handled – that begin when Leda notices Nina. Something about the sighting of this woman has triggered uncomfortable feelings in Leda, who goes out of her way to avoid gossip, lashing out at strangers and wrapping her laconic responses in some sort of combative barbed wire. . Good for keeping a wary distance, but also a clue that she might not be as strong as she thinks she is.

One afternoon at the beach, instead of flattering herself with family when she has the chance, Leda risks upsetting Nina’s in-laws by refusing to give up her place. Good for her, thinks Nina. And yet, these people – who bristle with sinister rights – are not used to being turned down. It would be unwise to make enemies of them. Then the little girl disappears, and Leda appears as a hero, for a time.

But the character isn’t an angel, as the film gradually reveals, which makes Gyllenhaal’s choice to cast Colman all the more subversive: There is something inherently pleasurable about the actor’s character, which reads as cheerful and pleasant, while this role allows him to explore his inner monster. Leda isn’t exactly monstrous, of course, although women in Western society face harsh judgments for acting selfishly the way she does – putting careers before children, pleasure before partners.

At the risk of revealing too much about Leda’s past, Peter Sarsgaard (the director’s real-life husband) takes on some of Buckley’s scenes, giving Gyllenhaal the chance to show off a steamy, alluring side of the never-before-captured actor on movie. An intense sapiosexual attraction arises, so strong that Leda can still evoke its intensity all these years later. As Leda’s memories take up a larger portion of the film, it becomes clear that she is still working on the impact of her actions much earlier – to the point that the film surprises by investing more in Leda’s past than in her. slow boiling, Patricia Highsmith-esque is intriguing over there in Greece.

Through it all, Gyllenhaal assumes a simple, practically invisible non-style that conveys the essential (like that missing doll, visible in the background of a key scene) while emphasizing performance. Working with French DP Hélène Louvart, she trusts her ensemble, giving them rich oars of subtext to play, rather than putting words in their mouths, though there are certain lines viewers may have. the impression they have always been waiting to hear – permission to be imperfect, so to speak. Even mothers make mistakes.


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