The Lost Daughter(Netflix)
Starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley
Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal
Rating: *** ½
There is much to be admired about Jake Gyllenhaal’s Badi Didi Maggie Gyllanhaal’s directorial debut. Impressively intense and raising questions on ideal motherhood that make us uncomfortable and embarrassed , The Lost daughter is the kind of explorative cinema that is designed to get instant brownie points for casting women in the main roles(the male characters are a little more than props in Maggie’s universe) and for fingering the status quo so uniquely and with such bold strokes of empathy and impunity.
While there is so much to rave over in this film, there is also plenty that is esoteric in a non-productive way. We will come to that later. To begin with Olivia Coleman(fantastic as ever, though I’ve always found her flustered personality a little annoying) playing Leda, a professor and academician specializing in the poetry of Yeats, arrives at a secluded Greek island for a vacation.
On the beach(which is an ideal setting for paradise soon to be lost in flashbacks) Leda sees and bonds with a stunning young woman and mom Nina(played by the bewitching Dakota Johnson whom we need to see much more of onscreen). There is an instant uneasy camaraderie between the two disparate women, separated by generations . They are bonded by a rather bizarre secret: they were both stifled in their individual spaces by the need to be a good mother.
Strangely this subject of smothering motherhood is dealt with in unsettling close-ups: little girls(never boys, not this time) poking their mothers awake, slapping them to get their attention, occupying their mother’s space by birthright.
Director Gyllenhaal wants us to feel how CROWDED the mother feels, specially when she is trying to balance domesticity with education .As the young Leda, Jessie Buckley looks nothing like Olivia Coleman who plays her older avatar. Buckley in fact gives Coleman a run for her money with a performance that pours out the character’s frustrations and fractured loyalties in waves of calibrated indignation: mothering duties stifling career, husband not able to rise to the occasion,etc . Stage set for infidelity and desertion.
Off goes young Leda for a 3-day literary convention where she meets the magnetic Auden-reciting scholar , played by a hopelessly miscast Peter Sarsgaard.In spite of the flashback being more of a set-up than a true dilemma of post-feminism motherhood, Buckley holds her own, as does Dakota Johnson , against Coleman.
Coleman’s Leda hiding from her past on the Greek island, is leaden with some bizarre angsty baggage. I could not till the end figure out why Leda steals Nina’s little’s daughter’s precious doll: some kind of sisterly revenge on demanding daughters? Or a just whim?
The ending too , with an orange being peeled like a snake(eye-rolling metaphor), too is problematic, as are the sketchy male characters who are either poseurs or provocateurs or both.
Finally, though, The Lost Daughter is a sumptuous tragedy, good to look at and caliginous with unresolved emotional crises. Olivia Coleman is appreciably affective as a woman torn between her failures as a mother in the past, and her lack of guilt about her selfimposed solitude in the present. This is not a very likeable woman. The film, though for all its flaws, is compelling in its moral conflicts.