The Lost Daughter


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Lost Daughter
"The film comes into its own because of Gyllenhaal's non-judgemental perspective, even sympathy, for the small suffocations of motherhood." | Photo: Netflix

Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal certainly hasn't taken the easy path with her directorial debut, which unfolds across two timelines and relies as much on psychological mood and the unspoken as it does on straightforward plot. Unusually, she has managed to avoid starring in the film herself - something that actors often find quite tricky to achieve with their first films as directors since funders nearly always want their face to be on screen as well. It’s working out for her so far, with a Venice award for best screenplay and a clutch of nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature, already under her belt.

Her film, adapted from the novella by Elena Ferrante, sees Oliva Colman's professor Leda, taking a break on a Greek island. Her idyll is intruded on by an extended family, including a mother Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter, who transport her back to her own younger years when (played by Jessie Buckley), she struggled to cope with the overwhelming nature of looking after her own two girls. This is a film all about personal space, closeness and intrusion - and though there is little overt violence the threat of danger seems to be everywhere for Leda, not least the danger of her own thoughts. Gyllenhaal also finds contrast between the voluntary isolation Leda is experiencing on holiday and the cramping of her personal space as a younger woman.

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Gyllenhaal has the perfect partner for her exercise in the thin line between intimacy and claustrophobia in cinematographer Helene Louvart, who has always had an ability to get up close and personal with her camera in the likes of Beach Rats, Never Rarely Sometimes Always and British film Rocks.

The Lost Daughter captures the tiny moments of joy of motherhood, including a repeated ritual of peeling an orange, but also the way that children can deliberately push a parent's buttons, all presented here as recollected fragments. The film comes into its own because of Gyllenhaal's non-judgemental perspective, even sympathy, for the small suffocations of motherhood ("Children are a crushing responsibility,” Leda says). These are matched by fine performances from Colman - a master at revealing internal anxieties through body language - and Buckley, who continues to prove herself as one of the finest actresses of her generation. Leda is a volatile, complex character - a woman on the brink, but the bring of what? We never know how she is going to react in a given situation, whether it's flirting with Will (Paul Mescal), a student working a summer job at the beach, or discovering a lost doll. This coupled with the nuanced acting on show here makes her intriguing from first to last.

Reviewed on: 17 Dec 2021
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A holidaying professor finds an encounter with another family triggers memories of motherhood from her past
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Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Writer: Maggie Gyllenhaal, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante

Starring: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ed Harris, Dagmara Dominczyk, Panos Koronis, Jack Farthing, Alba Rohrwacher, Ellie James, Abe Cohen, Vassilis Koukalani, Nikos Poursanidis

Year: 2021

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: US, Greece

Streaming on: Netflix

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