Based on the novel by Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter is the story of a woman vacationing in Greece is disrupted by the presence of a young mother forcing her to think about her own past. Written for the screen and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the film is an exploration of a woman dealing with her own past but also being fascinated by this young mother who is struggling in the new world of motherhood. Starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Ed Harris. The Lost Daughter is a riveting yet haunting film from Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The film is a simple story of a college professor traveling to Greece for a vacation where she observes a young mother dealing with her daughter who had lost her doll prompting this woman to think about her own past and struggles as a young mother back then. It’s a film that explores the idea of motherhood and how not everyone embraced it as a woman is forced to look back when she was a young woman to two little girls and watch this woman endure the same issues. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s screenplay is largely a straightforward yet reflective narrative where it follows Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) who goes to Greece on a holiday from work as she rents a small apartment for the time as she watches many people including this young woman in Nina (Dakota Johnson) struggling to take care of her young daughter Elena (Athena Martin). Even as Elena is surrounded by a group of people including family as many of them are terrible and not really helping Nina with her struggles.
For Leda, she is forced think about her time as a young woman (Jessie Buckley) in taking care of her two daughters with her often-absent husband Joe (Jack Farthing). Gyllenhaal’s script often shows Leda in situations where she is just trying to keep things to herself but is often surrounded by people in Nina’s circle who are quite cruel including a pregnant woman in Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk) who wants Leda to move her chair away from her party but Leda politely refuses. Leda would often encounter people who are quite mean to her with the exception of Nina and the apartment caretaker Lyle (Ed Harris) as with the former often coming to her for advice. It would force Leda to think about her own young life and how being a mother to two young girls wasn’t just overwhelming but also suffocating at times as the older Leda often looks on with a sense of regret but also warning Nina that things are going to be much tougher.
Gyllenhaal’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in terms of the setting but also in the air of intimacy into the two stories of this one woman dealing with her role as a mother but also observing this young woman struggling. Shot on location in Spetses, Greece as the small town, beaches, and houses are characters in the film as this tranquil getaway for Leda and many others. Gyllenhaal does use some wide shots to get a scope into some of these locations but uses medium shots to play into the conversations within the characters as well as lots of close-ups to play into some of the anguish as well as young Leda’s own sexual desires that include a scene of her masturbating while wearing headphones to block out her screaming kids. Gyllenhaal plays into this idea of motherhood and it’s not for everyone where the young Leda is more concerned with her own desires and her work rather than be with her daughters who are both seeking her attention. The doll that belong to Elena that Leda realized was in her bag following a moment where Elena had been lost and Leda found her is a symbol of Leda needing to redeem herself but also look back at her own faults as a mother.
Gyllenhaal’s direction also play into Leda struggling to deal with some of the other vacationers though she befriends Nina, Lyle, and a young Irishman named Will (Paul Mescal) who works at the bar at the beach. Gyllenhaal often has the camera in these locations of where Leda walks onto a hill that leads to the beach but also these small locations in the town where she wants to enjoy herself despite some of the awful young locals and tourists who say horrible things to her. The third act does play into the events that Leda regretted in her past during a conversation with Nina as it flashes back to the young Leda going on a trip for a lecture where her own desires come into play among meeting a college professor named Hardy (Peter Sarsgaard). Gyllenhaal would also reveal this key moment that opens the film of Leda walking down the beach at night with a wound in her stomach as it is also a symbolic moment about the many struggles of motherhood and the sacrifices it took to accept this role. Overall, Gyllenhaal crafts an evocative yet chilling film about a middle-aged woman looking back at her faults as a mother years ago as she observes the struggles of a young mother during a vacation in Greece.
Cinematographer Helene Louvart does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night as well as for some of the exterior scenes in the daytime. Editor Affonso Goncalves does excellent work with the editing as it does have some stylish jump-cuts as well as some unique transitions into the flashbacks. Production designer Inbal Weinberg, with set decorator Christine Vlachos and art director Monica Sallustio, does brilliant work with the look of the apartment that Leda lives in as well as the home she had when she was younger and some of the places she go to in the town nearby. Costume designer Edward K. Gibbon does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with a few of the stylish clothing and swimsuits that Nina wears.
Tattoo designer Panos Kondylis does nice work with some of the tattoos that Nina has as well as some of the people in her circle wear as it play into the idea of youth. Special effects supervisor Solon Giannoutos and visual effects supervisor Antonis Kotzias do terrific work with the special effects as it is largely minimal including a scene involving a young Leda and a doll and other bits of set dressing. Sound editor Leslie Shatz does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as some of the sparse sounds heard in a location to give it that sense of realism. The film’s music by Dickon Hinchcliffe is wonderful for its mixture of blues and orchestral string music that play into the drama while the film soundtrack features original music by Greek artist Monika along with music from the Talking Heads, Bon Jovi, Judy Garland, and Roberta Flack.
The casting by Kahleen Crawford is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Alexandros Mylonas as an older professor that the young Leda meets in a flashback, Alba Rohrwacher and Nikos Poursanidis as a couple of hikers the young Leda, her daughters, and husband meet, Panos Koronis as a Greek man named Vassili who is one of the few in Nina’s circle that is kind to her, Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Nina’s husband Toni, Robyn Elwell and Ellie Blake in their respective roles as Leda’s daughters Bianca and Martha, Ellie James and Isabelle Della-Porta in their respective roles as the voices of the older versions of Bianca and Martha, Jack Farthing as the young Leda’s husband Joe who is trying to do his job as well as be a good father, and Athena Martin in a wonderful performance as Nina’s young daughter Elena. Peter Sarsgaard is superb in a small role as college professor named Hardy whom the young Leda has an affair with during her seminar trip over translations she had created.
Dagmara Dominczyk is fantastic as Callie as a pregnant American tourist who is part of Nina’s circle as she is quite cruel while often being bossy while her kindness never feels sincere as she is someone who thinks knows everything and makes Nina insecure. Paul Mescal is excellent as the bartender Will who works at a beachside bar whom Leda befriends as he helps her out with the locales on the island but also observes the people who frequent though he also takes an interest in Nina. Ed Harris is brilliant as Lyle as apartment’s caretaker as a man that Leda befriends where he spent much of his time in this small town knowing a lot of the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes along while sharing his own stories of struggle with Leda but in a different way. Dakota Johnson is amazing as Nina as a young woman who is struggling with taking care of her young daughter while feeling her marriage is crumbling prompting her to find her own desires as she is being suffocated by people in her circle where she turns to Leda for help.
Finally, there’s the duo of Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in tremendous performances in their respective roles as the younger and older version of Leda Caruso. Buckley’s performance showcases a woman that isn’t just struggling with taking care of two young girls but also someone who is just feeling suffocated in the role as she has her own desires. Even though she has rare moments where she shows affection and time towards her daughters as it only play into a woman that knows what she has to do but is overwhelmed by having to be a mother. Colman’s performance is more reserved as the older Leda with the exception of a scene where she is antagonized by a bunch of young asshole men at a movie theater and threatens them. Still, Colman has a performance that showcases a woman with a sense of regret but also harboring the pain that she had as a young woman as it is definitely one of Colman’s great performances who also can sing as she sings along to Bon Jovi.
The Lost Daughter is a phenomenal film from Maggie Gyllenhaal as it features great performances from Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, and Dakota Johnson. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals, a somber music soundtrack, and its exploration of the themes of motherhood and its many struggles. The film is a fascinating thematic study that explore a woman looking back about her time as a young mother as well as watch a young mother dealing with similar struggles including unhappiness. In the end, The Lost Daughter is a sensational film from Maggie Gyllenhaal.
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