A tense and intriguing story | Movies
Maggie Gyllenhaal Makes Quietly Amazing Directorial Debut With The lost girl, a clever treatise on maternal ambivalence that delivers a disturbing emotional boost.
Olivia Colman plays Leda, a professor on sabbatical who has decided to spend time in Greece while working on her next book. As an elderly woman, abroad and alone in the world, Leda is invisible in an equally unfair and enticing way: when greeted by Lyle, a handsome property manager played by Ed Harris, the Viewers could be forgiven for wondering if a rom-com would be walking away. How Leda found her groove, anybody?
Fortunately, The lost girl is up to something much more intriguing. Adapted from Elena Ferrante’s novel, what initially promises to be a tasty escape piece turns into a tense and enigmatic psychological thriller, stuffed with the same themes that preoccupied Ferrante in his My brilliant friend cycle: motherhood, alliance, regret and the often ruthless power of the female gaze.
In this case, the tractor beam of fascination, resentment, and attraction belongs to Leda, who quietly becomes obsessed with Nina (Dakota Johnson), a new mom on vacation with her boisterous, quarrelsome extended family. Irritated to see her splendid isolation interrupted, Leda is quickly fascinated by the flexible creature who alternately loves and ignores her little girl. Soon Leda is transported back in time, as she unsuccessfully tried to balance the demands of a family and a burgeoning college career. Past and present end up colliding The lost girl, as Leda and Nina give in to their mutual magnetic attraction, with disturbing and explosive results.
It is said that the foundation of cinema rests on men watching beautiful women: here, Gyllenhaal intelligently reverses the roles, inviting the audience to see Nina through Leda’s eyes, from a distance, to better project a narrative of our own. Pushed into the traditional object role – albeit with a clever, even subversive touch – Johnson delivers what could be the most accomplished performance of her career, using her face, body, costumes and makeup to project anything she can’t say (at least initially).
Colman breaks up as Leda, who is highly self-protective and deeply vulnerable: A scene in which she refuses to cede her beach space to Nina’s family is a passive-aggressive subtext play. The forces that made her what she is become clearer in The lost girl ‘s frequent flashbacks in which Jessie Buckley plays young Leda with flawless verisimilitude.
The plot of The lost girl become awkwardly obvious as the story reaches its eerie and unsettling climax; what should be a function of bad leadership Highsmith-ian instead feels labored and forced. Despite these hiccups, Gyllenhaal keeps this tense and intriguing story on a sufficiently uneven pin, as events take their inevitable but still shocking course. She also recruited some good supporting actors to flesh out the narrative, including Paul Mescal, Peter Sarsgaard and Jack Farthing. But Gyllenhaal’s eyes are firmly fixed on the women of The lost girl, which benefits immensely from the filmmaker’s own gaze – alert, sensitive and incredibly uncompromising.