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(Maggie Gyllenhaal’s writing/directing debut, The Lost Daughter is in select theaters Friday, December 17 before hitting Netflix on December 31. Chris Reed has this movie review ofThe Lost Daughter. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

An adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s eponymous 2006 Italian novel, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s writing/directing debut, The Lost Daughter, features not one, but two powerhouse performances. First there is Olivia Colman (Mothering Sunday), who plays the fortysomething version of Leda, an English academic on holiday in Greece; then there is her younger self, played by Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) in flashbacks that run parallel to the present-day story. As Leda sees and does things — some of them morally questionable — during her vacation, she is brought back time and again to her own past, the choices she made as wife and mother, and where life has brought her since. The twin narratives intertwine in often fascinating ways, the result a thoughtful cinematic study on the competing pressures of career and motherhood. As far as directorial kickoffs go, this one is a stunner.

When first we meet the older Leda, she is in some evident distress, both mental and physical, collapsing at night in the surf of an isolated beach. Has this as-of-yet unknown woman just died? Hopefully, we’ll find out. In a smash cut, we find her driving down a coastal road in a happier, and presumably earlier, moment. Just arrived on the (fictional) Greek island of Kyopeli, she is greeted, once in town, by the rental-apartment’s caretaker, Lyle (Ed Harris, HBO’s Westworld), who can’t quite believe how heavy her suitcases are (she apologizes that they’re full of books). He’s an amiable-enough fellow, though she appears to be looking primarily for alone time. Sadly, in the morning, her peaceful idyll on the shore is shattered by a very large, raucous extended family. So much for rest.

Among the brood is Nina (Dakota Johnson, The High Note), a young American who has married into the clan and is now mother to a girl, Elena. It’s the interactions between the two that prompt Leda’s meditations on her own time parenting, which coincided with the start of her life in academia. Then married to a fellow Ph.D., she and he struggled to find jobs, raise their two daughters, and keep the flame of passion alive, eventually drifting apart as the professional stakes were raised. It didn’t help that success came more quickly for her, especially given the patronizing manner in which her husband discussed her work. No wonder Leda found comfort in the arms of another. 

In Nina, she sees obvious similarities that draw her attention. When one day Elena goes missing, it is Leda who finds her, though along the way she plants the seeds of a betrayal that will come back to haunt her and others. All the while, Leda revisits, over and over, the decisions that she made years ago, and how they have affected her relationship with her daughters today. Memory is a powerful tool of self-reflection.

For such an internally focused movie, The Lost Daughter is surprisingly beautiful to behold. Shot mostly on the island of Spetses by cinematographer Hélène Louvart (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), it showcases sparkling visuals that serve as a kind of a metaphor for a lost paradise that never was. Beyond the aforementioned cast, the rest of the ensemble is equally strong, with Dagmara Dominczyk (Abe) a particular standout. By the time we return to that opening beach scene, we have traveled quite a distance from incomprehension to understanding, and what a profound journey it is.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Netflix; Maggie Gyllenhaal; The Lost Daughter movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

  • groundbreaking, amazing cinematography, editting and acting but weirder than i anticipated

    December 31, 2021
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