Leda is a middle-aged divorcée devoted to her work as an English teacher and to her two children. When her daughters leave home to be with their father in Canada, Leda anticipates a period of loneliness and longing. Instead, slightly embarrassed by the sensation, she feels liberated, as if her life has become lighter, easier. She decides to take a holiday by the sea, in a small coastal town in southern Italy. But after a few days of calm and quiet, things take a menacing turn. Leda encounters a family whose brash presence proves unsettling, at times even threatening. When a small, seemingly meaningless event occurs, Leda is overwhelmed by memories of the difficult, unconventional choices she made as a mother and their consequences for herself and her family. The seemingly serene tale of a woman’s pleasant rediscovery of herself soon becomes the story of a ferocious confrontation with an unsettled past. – From IMDB
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is full of feeling, mystery and beauty. A hell of a way to kick off a directing career and she does it beautifully. It make me really wonder, and be quite excited, to see where her career will go if this is how she has started off.
Olivia Colman is the main focus of the story. She plays Leda, our mysterious main character. We all know by now that Colman can give astounding performances, and here she does it again. More in what is left unsaid then in anything that is directly said in the dialogue. The small reactions, the body language, the facial expressions, these are the moments that make her performance, and add so much to the story, without a single word actually needing to be said. This hyper focus on Leda’s character mean that we are seeing most of the events through her eyes, mirroring the first person narrative of the original book, but also leading us to believe that we are seeing things from a slightly skewed perspective, from an unreliable narrator. But is in the literal final minutes of the film that Colman’s performance is at it’s most amazing, when Leda truly come to with everything, one of her best performances to date in my opinion.
This whole film revolves around small moments, they are used to unsettle you and build the mystery. For a good portion of the film we really have no idea what everything is building up to. We watch Leda acting so bizarrely, with no real understanding of why. The film almost purposefully keeps it secrets from you, encouraging you to keep watching until the end as it slowly reveals it secrets to you a little at a time. The sense of dread that permeates the whole film is in direct opposition to the stunning surroundings of the island, and the sense of serenity that Leda is so desperate for. In the same way, the chaos of the flashbacks, showing how Leda ended up where she is, are also in opposition with the apparent serenity of the present. It is a very effective, yet jarring comparison.
Jesse Buckley, who plays the younger version of Leda in the flashbacks is as fantastic as always, and on this occasion has a lot more of the emotional and impactful work to do. She handles it beautifully of course and it is these parts of the film that really leave an emotional wallop. It is also quite interesting and rare to see represented, the idea that not all women are natural mothers, or necessarily have their lives fulfilled by having children. As a woman who feels this way myself, I found it validating to see this.
This film is a very deep character study, and I can see how some people would find it boring or stuffy. It does drag on a little towards the end, but the rewards outweigh the negatives here. A surprising one for me, but something I ultimately loved the more I watched.
FINAL RATING: 4 Stars
‘The Lost Daughter’ is streaming now on Netflix