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MOVIES: The Lost Daughter - Review

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The Lost Daughter is proof of excellence; both behind and in front of the camera. You know Olivia Colman and Maggie Gyllenhaal are very good, and this film continues their form – although Gyllenhaal has a lengthied acting career it is her first behind the camera, a feature that adapts Elena Ferrante’s novel from the mid-2000s of the same name, a psychological thriller, and turns it into a character study that’s as much as one as that book was. It’s hard to adapt Ferrante novels – My Brilliant Friend succeeded, let alone outside of its original translation, but the HBO show paved the blueprint for it and The Lost Daughter turns page to screen in a marvellously complex, nuanced way, giving life to Colman’s character through flashbacks that revisit her past as she wanders through a Greek beach, the same that allegedly played host to Leonard Cohen – as Ed Harris’ elderly free-spirited dancer Lyle suggests, depicted by Polly Samson in the wonderful summer read A Theatre of Dreams.

Here Colman’s Leda comes face to face with haunted demons of her past when a young mother – Nina, played by Dakota Johnson, loses her child on the beach and the two start to bond. Nina is in a similar situation to that Leda faced when she was younger; which Jessie Buckley explores her past. You believably see Buckley as a younger Colman – and it quickly becomes clear that both versions of the character; and of Nina – are inherently complex, motherhood doesn’t equal love and getting to see someone who is far too often simply described as a bad person on screen and not given much attention is all too rare an occasion – let alone affording them as much as depth as Gyllenhaal does. Leda is flawed, but we understand why – as do the characters like Nina around her – make those actions – with the film exploring a repetition of a familiar cycle through Nina and her shared affair with 24-year-old Will, played by Normal People’s Paul Mescal. The film uses Nina as a way to reflect on Leda but never falls into the trap of not allowing Nina plenty of character growth in her own right, the two leads play off each other very well as Nina in turn comes to understand Leda as the audience does.

This examination of selfishness is so nuanced it feels entirely disturbing, raw and unflinching in its questions that it asks. The film feels so human – the good, happier moments are so rewarding when they do – Ed Harris dancing in a little hat is one of those times, and Leda belting out Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer feels like an appropriate choice rather than a song just chucked in at random. I also cheered at Leda for telling off a group of rowdy youths in the cinema. It indeed makes a fascinating comparison to Mike Mills’ C’mon, C’mon – both films reflect on the troubles of parenthood and found parenthood – both of the parents aren’t looking after their actual children, but Nina and Jesse feel like younger representations of themselves. Children are a responsibility that adults aren’t always ready to deal with, and can’t always deal with 24/7. Both the protagonists of The Lost Daughter and C’mon, C’mon come from similar middle-class backgrounds, but rather than be optimistic, The Lost Daughter feels the opposite – entirely pessimistic in its approach for much of its runtime.

The locations of the sunny Mediterranean Leda Curuso are brought to life impeccably in an unglamorous way, Call Me By Your Name this is not. The familiar burden of secrets and past torments come back to life – but in a way that feels refreshingly new, despite the initial set up. The book is anglicized from Ferrante’s Italian source material, but its low stakes trappings only work in its favour, with Gyllenhaal creating heightened tension possible out of the smallest of low-key moments.

Dealing with familiar themes to that of My Brilliant Friend and the rest of the essential Neapolitan novels (do check out HBO’s brilliant television series too if you haven’t), The Lost Daughter will win over not just fans of Ferrante but for anyone ready to get on the wavelength of this complex, nuanced character drama. It’s refreshing to watch an anti-motherhood movie that isn’t rooted in horror, such as films like Psycho, but the film avoids feeling like that of regret and remorse – and that is its – and its lead characters’ biggest strengths. Colman more than deserves another Oscar - it would normally feel lazy going for the same actor for best actress year in, year out - but there is none better than her right now.

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