The Lost Daughter: a tense and thrilling directorial debut by Maggie Gyllenhaal ★★★★

By Anna Berkowitz

The transition from actor to director has never been smoother. In this faithful adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s 2006 book of the same name, Maggie Gyllenhaal constructs a two hour meditation on womanhood, career, sexuality, and the ways that being a mother can damage the self.

The film follows Leda (Olivia Colman), a middle aged literature professor on holiday in Greece. There she meets and is almost immediately enthralled by Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother with her large and comically irritating Greek-American family. The plot is fairly sparse, as a spur of the moment action by Leda leads to unforeseen consequences over the course of her vacation, but what stands out is the sense of menace and tension that is successfully built over the film. Olivia Colman is brilliantly cast in a role that allows her to shine, becoming the focal point of the entire film. The film is intensely shot from her perspective, so much so that it can be frustrating at times. Leda is not a particularly likable protagonist, but is not despicable either. She is clearly polite and well respected in her field, but awkward with others and unpredictable. This gives her a certain captivating quality, as the audience is never allowed to fully understand her character. 

However, it is an incredibly slow burn and the pace can sometimes drag, making the film feel much longer than its two hour runtime. While the continual flashbacks to Leda as a young mum (Jessie Buckley) make the film richer, they can feel awkwardly placed and go on for long enough to make the storyline taking place in the present day feel jagged. While meant to build tension, the constant close-ups are also slightly disorienting and seem unnecessary, even when watched on a laptop screen.

Much of the novel takes place inside Leda’s head, and the challenge for Gyllenhaal to translate it onto the screen was that much harder. There is some that is lost in translation, especially for the casual viewer who is unfamiliar with Ferrante’s work. However, the film captures the tension and inner battle that exists in Leda’s mind extremely well, and paints a poignant portrait of a woman who is really only battling herself.

Hi, I’m Anna Berkowitz. I’m from Berkeley, California, and I’m a General Course student, in my third year, studying International Relations and Literature. In the limited time that I have outside of the wonderful world of academia, I enjoy running, reading, playing flute, and spending all my money on cinema tickets and books. I love writing about new films, and tv, especially anything in the science fiction or fantasy genre. If you’d like to get in touch about anything at all, my email is a.e.berkowitz@lse.ac.uk, and my Instagram is @anna.berkowitz

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