The Lost Daughter – Film Review

The Lost Daughter (2021) - IMDb

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Writer: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Starring: Olivia Colman Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jack Farthing

Rating: ★★★★

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, which she also wrote the screenplay for, is based on the novel of the same name from Elena Ferrante. It’s a story about a woman who’s looking back on her life and is haunted by her past, and choices she made.  

While on holiday alone in Greece Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) starts to get tangled up with another family who are on holiday at the same time. Her quiet time on the beach is interrupted as the loud and large family arrive, and she can’t help watching them, which reminds her of her own past and family. One day, the family’s young daughter goes missing and Leda is the one to find her and bring her back. At the same time the girl’s doll goes missing, which Leda also finds, but isn’t compelled to give it back. The doll reminds her of one she had as a child, so she takes it back to her apartment and keeps it a secret.

The Lost Daughter is an incredibly intimate film, there are lots of close-up shots and the camera is often shaking, as if we are sitting with Leda as she’s on holiday. It can be a little jarring at times, especially in the beginning, but once you’ve settled in, it’s gripping, and you feel like you’re part of the story. Gyllenhaal has perfectly captured the sense of regret and depression that Leda is feeling as her past is unravelling around her, and it’s at times uncomfortable to watch. Because of how close the camera is, you feel almost implicit with the stealing of the doll, willing Leda to give it back to the crying child, while at the same time understanding why she’s keeping hold of it.

Olivia Colman is phenomena as Leda; you can feel every emotion through her facial expressions. The isolation she feels, the anger, the fear and regret. She carries it all and it completely captivating. You can tell what she’s thinking as she sits on the beach watching the family go about their day, each movement telling another story. Jessie Buckley is also wonderful as the younger Leda, capturing the essence of Colman’s portrayal in the present.

Leda’s holiday is infused with a haunting sense of isolation. She’s travelling alone, the place seems empty and there’s a detachment from everyone else for the most part. Leda seems to want to distance herself from the staff, their interactions often leading to awkward reactions, when she does start to get friendly with people, it leads to her getting tangled up in events she doesn’t really want to be involved with and is kind of punished for it throughout. The first time Leda talks to her daughter over the phone, she’s excited to talk about her holiday, but the voice on the other end of the line doesn’t seem to be listening, and the conversation is cut short.

The central theme is abandonment and loss, and that’s what Leda is struggling with and causing her isolation. She feels like she abandoned her children when she was younger, and their relationship has struggled since then. There’s the child who is lost on the beach, who in turn loses her doll. It’s a depressing story that can be hard to watch at points.

The Lost Daughter is an honest and powerful portrayal of motherhood. It’s a slow-paced film that lets you sit with Leda as her past is unfolded. Gyllenhaal’s debut as a director is a poignant and emotional film and one that will no doubt receive a lot of nominations, adding to those it has already collected, during awards season.

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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