Draped in a pall of melancholy that greater than fulfills the promise of its title, “The Lost Daughter” — Maggie Gyllenhaal’s seductive first characteristic as director — is a film crammed with portents. These begin to floor virtually instantly as Leda (Olivia Colman), a gifted professor of comparative literature, begins a Greek island trip, laden with books and scholarly intentions.
It’s not merely the bowl of moldy fruit that mars her charming beachside rental, or the moaning foghorn and flashing lighthouse lantern that Lyle (Ed Harris), the condo’s caretaker, assures her will solely be occasional annoyances. That assure proves to not apply to the big and rowdy American household who someday invade Leda’s idyllic seashore and whose closely pregnant matriarch, Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk), asks her to maneuver her chair. Leda refuses, and there’s a temporary, tense standoff; for the primary time, we sense one thing steely and resolute in Leda, who till now has appeared politely agreeable. We don’t know who Leda is, however we’re abruptly all in on discovering out.
Tailored by Gyllenhaal from Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the identical title, “The Lost Daughter” is a complicated, elusively plotted psychological thriller. Drip by drip, a obscure sense of menace builds as Leda is drawn to Nina (Dakota Johnson), Callie’s daughter-in-law and the sad mom of a fractious little lady.
“They’re unhealthy folks,” Will (Paul Mescal), the pleasant Irish pupil working the seashore bar, warns. But watching Nina wrestle together with her youngster, Leda’s eyes fill with tears as she recollects her personal frustrations as a younger mom of two small daughters, now grown. In a sequence of superbly formed flashback scenes, we see the younger Leda (brilliantly performed by Jessie Buckley) attempt to work whereas wrestling with the never-ending calls for of her youngsters and the obliviousness of her unhelpful husband (Jack Farthing). A quick, miraculous escape to an educational convention reveals each the heft of her mind and the overwhelming sexiness of its recognition by a charismatic colleague (entertainingly performed by Gyllenhaal’s husband, Peter Sarsgaard).
But solely a superficial studying of “The Lost Daughter” would describe it as a meditation on the dual tugs of youngsters and profession. It’s, as an alternative, a darkish and deeply disturbing exploration of one thing rather more uncooked, and even radical: the notion that motherhood can plunder the self in irreparable methods.
“Youngsters are a crushing duty,” Leda tells Callie at one level, Colman’s regular gaze and adjectival emphasis solely heightening her character’s attract. In its sly sultriness and emotional intricacy, the film weaves an environment of unnerving thriller. That is crucially bolstered by Hélène Louvart’s delectable close-ups as she lingers, as an example, on Nina’s appraising glances at Leda, as if sizing up the older lady as a attainable ally. However for what?
Although Gyllenhaal can at occasions lean somewhat closely on the sinister signifiers — a worm sliding from a doll’s mouth, an errant pine cone crashing into Leda’s again — she is rarely thematically distracted, emphasizing how girls alone are sometimes presumed lonely (by males just like the gently intrusive Lyle), or irrelevant (by girls like Callie, smugly buttressed by her swollen stomach and swarming menfolk). On the identical time the film, as if absorbing Leda’s ambiguities, has an unsure high quality that thickens the suspense. So when Leda does one thing infantile and inexplicable, the potential for the act additionally being harmful feels rather more actual.
Equal components troubling and affecting, Leda epitomizes a kind of lady whose wants are not often addressed in American mainstream films. We are able to dislike her, however we’re by no means permitted to revile her. The movie’s empathetic gaze and Colman’s spiky, heartbreaking efficiency — watch her glow in a stunning dinner scene as she shares intimate recollections with Will — tether us to her facet. In any case, Leda doesn’t want our condemnation; she’s harboring greater than sufficient of her personal.
The Lost Daughter
Rated R for joyful adultery and miserable parenting. Working time: 2 hours 1 minute. Watch on Netflix.
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