The Lost Daughter: A dark drama on confrontations of ‘motherhood’

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The plot is packed with tense present-day sequences and is interspersed with scenes from Leda’s life 20 years ago, when the younger Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) is drained and fatigued – juggling her career and parenting two small, clingy daughters…writes Troy Ribeiro

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal. Cast: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. (Rating: ***1/2) (Streaming on Netflix). Duration: 122 minutes.

Adapted from the novel by Elena Ferrante, ‘The Lost Daughter’ by debutante director Maggie Gyllenhall has an emotional complexity and a sense of dread that makes for an intriguing and riveting psychological drama concerning motherhood.

The narrative begins on an innocuous note with Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), a professor, settling into her vacation at a seaside resort on the fictional island of Kyopeli. A few days into her vacation a boisterous family makes its presence felt at the beach. Among the members of the family, Leda notices Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother, and her daughter Elina.

There’s something way too intense in her focus on the mother and daughter as she relates to Nina’s struggle with the constant demands of motherhood. Seeing them interact, Leda recalls the bond she once shared with her own daughters, Bianca and Martha.

Leda befriends Nina and takes on a motherly role, but there’s something amiss about their association. She does not know why she does things that she does. She is obsessive, compulsive, and is at war with her own impulses.

Narrated in a non-linear format, this is a character-driven film where Leda’s character unravels like a mysterious page-turner. The plot is packed with tense present-day sequences and is interspersed with scenes from Leda’s life 20 years ago, when the younger Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) is drained and fatigued – juggling her career and parenting two small, clingy daughters.

Gyllenhaal reminds us that there is no escaping the damage that comes with familial love, intentional or not. She navigates the emotional minefields and unsparingly tallies the cycle of psychological damage among multiple generations of independent women and thus makes the entire process relatable. Yes, some of the characters in the film may reflect your personal experiences.

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, as the older and younger Leda Caruso, are pitch-perfect with their histrionics. Together, they bring out Leda’s watchful and distressed, sometimes impulsive and sloppy, mannerisms to the fore, with amazing, natural ease, and make you feel for her.

Johnson plays Nina, the young hassled mom unsure of what she wants in life, with a fascinating mix of languid pleasure and taut desperation. Dagmara Dominczyk as Nina’s pregnant sister-in-law Callie is sharp and vibrant.

Ed Harris, as Lyle the caretaker of the lodge where Leda stays, Peter Sarsgaard as the hot-shot celebrity scholar, and Paul Mescal as Will, the handy boy at the resort, all have their moments of onscreen glory.

Overall, mounted with moderate production values, the film does have a few edit issues, but these can be overlooked.

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