Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Psychological Drama
Plot: This exceptional film is a directorial debut by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who memorably starred in the series The Honourable Woman. Based on Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, The Lost Daughter takes a few liberties with the story – it shifts from Italy to Greece and the characters are no longer Neapolitan. The main character, Leda, is an academic, and a Harvard professor of English Literature, who decides to take a working holiday on a small Greek island in the Mediterranean. From the start we get a sense of her uncertain experiences of travelling alone. Here the Director is building an uncomfortable tension that the film impressively maintains throughout. Leda is alone on the beach when people from a noisy crowd ask her to move to make room for them. To their obvious displeasure, Leda aggressively refuses. This incident on the beach unfolds into a series of experiences where Leda becomes increasingly obsessed with the family, and in particular Nina, a young mother who is clearly struggling with her daughter. Something is resonating with Leda’s own experiences, which we begin to gain oblique insights into through a parallel story of her earlier family life. Mother and daughter themes intermingle in complex ways and there are sometimes alarming results.
Cast: Olivia Colman is outstanding as Leda. She brings extraordinary expression to the character’s emotions, drawing us into her complicated relationships and making us question the motivations and actions of others. Her portrayal of Leda’s manipulative and sometimes excruciating behaviour is an acting master class. Jessie Buckley is also impressive as the younger Leda, who is trying to complete her PhD in the midst of chaotic family life. The vibrant Dakota Johnson plays Nina, another young mother who becomes the focus of Leda’s obsession on the beach. Dakota effectively portrays Nina’s initial fascination with Leda, and then her outrage as she discovers Leda’s deceit.
Filming and Setting: The Lost Daughter was filmed on the affluent Greek island of Spetses. The film-makers were able to commandeer areas of the island, twenty-two kilometres or so in circumference, during a covid lockdown. This enabled them to move freely about the town, making use of bars, streets and buildings that were abandoned by tourists. It results in an authentic experience for the actors and a splendidly visual film for the audience. Not as popular a tourist destination as some of the other Greek islands, I imagine things might change in Spetses after this film. I have made a note of it.
Personal Comments: While the film explores the complexities of relationships and the dynamics between people, it is nevertheless all about what’s happening inside Leda’s head. We are never sure whether she is interpreting her relationships accurately – is she paranoid or does she have valid concerns about the motivations of others? Is she threatened, or is she the obsessive intruder into the lives of others? And how does all this relate to her experiences of motherhood competing with her academic ambitions? It’s a film that won’t appeal to everyone, slow to start with complicated dynamics and a sinister atmosphere. Nothing is resolved. The film prefers to remain ambiguous and open to interpretation. But for those who like a good psychological drama, this one is intriguingly cerebral, compelling in its intensity, and breathtaking in its execution.