The Reel Review

B

While on a Greek beach vacation, Leda, a middle-aged literature professor, becomes mesmerized by a crass, harried young mother and her daughter, triggering her own insecurities and past experiences with motherhood. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is an adaptation of the best-selling 2006 novel by the Italian author who goes by the pseudonym Elena Farrante.

Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter.

Viewers expecting an actual plot in The Lost Daughter will be deeply disappointed. This psychological drama is a complex character portrait of a compulsive individual wracked with guilt for putting herself ahead of her young daughters when she was a young mother.

Jessie Buckley in The Lost Daughter.

Flashbacks with a very convincing Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose) as the younger, more harried Leda gradually paint the portrait of the guarded and paranoid woman of today. The rest of the cast includes Dakota Johnson as the young mother, Gyllenhaal’s real-life husband Peter Sarsgaard as the academic with whom a young Leda starts an affair, Paul Mescal (Normal People) as the local beach attendant, and Ed Harris as the caretaker who rents Leda her villa.

Dakota Johnson and Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter.

The Lost Daughter is an uncomfortable, unnerving film. Gyllenhaal and an always excellent Colman meticulously squeeze suspense and symbolism out of every seemingly mundane scene – be it playing with a stolen doll, discovering that a complementary bowl of fruit has rotted, or confronting rude, disruptive people on the beach or in a cinema. Perhaps the novel doesn’t lend itself to such a faithful adaptation, but there just isn’t much to the film. Fans of the filmmaking craft, and perhaps women who have struggled with the challenges of motherhood, will appreciate the nuances of The Lost Daughter. Nearly everyone else will be repelled by it.

REEL FACTS

• The author using the pseudonym Elena Farrante has kept her true identity secret since the 1992 publication of her first novel.

Olivia Colman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dakota Johnson at the Venice Film Festival.

• Maggie Gyllenhaal says Farrante agreed to have her novel made into a movie only after Gyllenhaal agreed to direct it. Gyllenhaal and husband Peter Sarsgaard have two daughters, Gloria Ray, 9, and Ramona, 15.

The Lost Daughter was filmed on the Greek isle of Spetses.

 

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