The Lost Daughter (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): What makes this woman tick?

“The Lost Daughter”, which was released on Netflix in US at the very end of last year, is an ambiguously fascinating character study revolving around one woman who seems to have some lasting personal issues behind her seemingly monotonous façade. Often baffling us with those odd deeds and behaviors of hers, the movie gradually lets us have some empathy and understanding on what makes this woman tick, and the result is often captivating as being firmly anchored on the emotional ground thanks to one of the most compelling movie performances of last year.

After the brief but unnerving opening scene which suggests to us that something bad will happen sooner or later, the movie introduces us to Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), a middle-aged literature college professor who has just arrived in a small Greek beach town for spending her summer vacation there alone by herself. As she begins her first days in the town, more tourists come, but Leda simply prefers to stick to her solitary vacation, and she is also not so interested in getting friendly with an old American expatriate who provides her current staying place.

And then something slowly draws her attention. As Leda is enjoying her another peaceful day on the beach, a young married woman comes along with her several family members, and Leda subsequently gets to know a bit about this young married woman and her family. Her name is Nina (Dakota Johnson), and she seems happy to be with her husband and their little daughter, but, for some unspecified reason, Leda cannot help but focus on Nina and her family more and more. When a certain unexpected incident happens to Nina and her family later, Leda willingly gives some help, and Nina and her family surely appreciate that, but then the movie shows us that she committed a small but serious misdeed behind her back in the meantime.

Why did she do such a thing like that? Neither Leda nor the movie gives us any clear answer, but then we come to sense more of her elusive emotional motives as the movie starts to dole out one flashback scene after another. We see how often younger Leda, played by Jessie Buckley, struggled a lot to balance herself between motherhood and career ambition as a married graduate student with two little daughters, and it seems that those painful feelings of inadequacy and guilt are still hovering over Leda’s mind. She certainly wanted to be a good mother, but she often felt like being driven to the edge just like any mother busily dealing with her young kids everyday, and she also felt quite conflicted as coming to regard her motherhood as a big obstacle in her burgeoning academic career.

Never spelling out anything too clear or loud in the story, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Maggie Gyllenhaal, which is based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante, patiently delves more into its heroine’s enigmatic state of mind with subtle nuances and details to be appreciated. As getting to know about her past bit by bit, we wonder more about the current status of Leda’s private life, but she still does not reveal anything to us, and that accordingly draws more curiosity and question from us. After all, as my late mentor Roger Ebert once said, it is much more interesting to for us to read significance from mystery rather than having everything conveniently spelled out for us, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, the situation becomes a bit more tense as Leda lets herself getting more associated with Nina and her family. There seems to be something shady about Nina’s in-laws, and it is possible that they will not be merely displeased if they ever happen to learn about what Leda did behind her back. In addition, Nina later turns out to be not as content as she seemed at first, and that makes Leda’s situation more complicated than before.

I will not go into details on what will inevitably happen in the end, but I can tell you instead that I admire how ably Gyllenhaal handles the story and characters under her unadorned but skillful direction. This is her directorial debut work, but she shows here another side of her considerable talent which has mainly been represented by a number of stellar performances including the Oscar-nominated supporting turn in “Crazy Heart” (2009), and she deservedly received the Best Screenplay award when the movie was shown at the Venice International Film Festival several months ago.

In addition, Gyllenhaal drew excellent performances from her several notable cast members. Olivia Colman, a wonderful British actress who has steadily advanced during last few years after receiving an Oscar for her breakthrough performance in “The Favourite” (2018), is often spellbinding as delicately suggesting whatever is churning inside her deeply flawed character, and her terrific performance is organically connected with an equally good performance by Jessie Buckley during those flashback scenes in the film. As another crucial female character in the story, Dakota Johnson holds her own small place well around Colman, and Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, and Alba Rohrwacher are also fine in their minor supporting roles.

Overall, “The Lost Daughter” will surely require some patience from you due to its rather slow and elusive storytelling approach, but it will be a rewarding emotional journey on the whole once you willingly go along with that challenging aspect. In short, this is one of the most interesting films of last year, and I think you should give it a chance as soon as possible.

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1 Response to The Lost Daughter (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): What makes this woman tick?

  1. Pingback: My Prediction on the 94th Academy Awards | Seongyong's Private Place

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