Maya Dardel


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Maya Dardel
"The most enjoyable aspects of Maya Dardel lie away from its pseudy centre."

It's rarely a good sign when a film changes its name in the middle of a festival run. Name-switching is generally the first line of defence for weak films, in an attempt to distance themselves from critical reviews. Recent examples include the multiple monikered Two Mothers/Adore and Predisposed/Why Stop Now? But if the film retains its flaws, at least the simplified Maya Dardel is an improvement on its SXSW title Critically Endangered Species, which suggests the self-indulgence to come - and no doubt provided every early reviewer with an irresistible one-liner.

Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak's story revolves around the titular character (Olin), a famous writer, who calls up a radio show one morning to reveal she plans to commit suicide rather than slip gently into middle-aged mediocrity. She reveals she plans to leave her estate to an up-and-coming writer, with the caveat that they must be male and intellectually talented.

Things start well in the confines of her California home, as Olin brings a steely intensity and aloofness to Maya, who, it turns out is interested in whether her prospective heirs' sexual swords are mightier than their pens. What could have become an interesting film on power dynamics, ageing and sexual tension soon slumps into a much more pedestrian plot - as she whittles the field down to the milquetoast Ansel (Nathan Keyes) and hot blood Paul (Alexander Koch).

Cotler and Zyzak begin to craft a talkathon that strives for intellectual heights but which rarely rises above navel-gazing. Their backgrounds are in the written word - poetry and novels respectively - but a film needs to come alive in ways that word on a page do not.

The acting is also out of kilter, with Keyes and Koch several leagues below Olin's in terms of talent, but the biggest problem is that the film simply isn't as smart as it thinks it is - it's hard to see why either of these men would provide enough entertainment to Maya to satisfy her for an hour, let alone the multiple visits they make. What's the fun of manipulation is the 'victim' is such a push-over?

The most enjoyable aspects of Maya Dardel lie away from its pseudy centre, in the excellent cinematography from Patrick Scola, which makes the most of 'half light, and in the sparky relationship between Maya and her neighbour (Roseanna Arquette, who proves Olin's equal). There is talent here but too much of it is wasted.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2017
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A successful writer invites young male authors to compete to be her heir.

Director: Zachary Coltler, Magdalena Zyzak

Writer: Magdalena Zyzak, Zachary Coltler

Starring: Lena Olin, Rosanna Arquette, Nathan Keyes, Alexander Koch Jordan Gavaris, Chris Voss

Year: 2016

Runtime: 104 minutes


EIFF 2017

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