Where does motherhood end and a woman starts living? Leda, the protagonist of the movie ‘The Lost Daughter’ grapples with this question and we the audience live this dilemma with her. The proof of a good film is the empathy that its characters generate in the audience for their on-screen predicaments. The Lost Daughter scores are high on that count.
By all counts, The Lost Daughter is a director's movie. Much of its execution, story-telling, and dynamics of the scenes, depend on the vision of the director. It is the directorial debut of American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal who seemed to have put her heart, soul, and complete mind, into it. The result is a clear success.
Extra close-up shots of the faces of the characters, with a camera that lingers on, long enough to catch their emotions which they would rather hide. The director is successful in making the setting, the conversations and the characters, all feel very raw, real, and personal. Maggie uses the very able French cinematographer Helene Louvart as an impressive tool in unlocking subtle emotions through patient explorations of the faces of the characters.
The Lost Daugther is based on a novel by the Italian writer Elena Ferrante with the same title. It is a story of a professor of literature named Leda, played with sensitivity and subtleties by seasoned English actress Olivia Colman. Leda, a middle-aged woman (she mentions her age as 48 in one of the scenes) from America is vacationing alone on a sun-kissed beach town in Greece. Here she comes across a large Greek joint family. Part of the family is Nina (played by Dakota Johnson) a young mother with a clingy three-year-old daughter. The film starts into its psychological journey the moment Leda lays eyes on the young mother-daughter on a beach. Soon we start seeing flashbacks of a young Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) with her own two daughters. Through these flashbacks, we get to peek into the constraints of the life of the young woman (Leda), who is trying the balancing act of being a good patient mother, a career woman, and a sensitive partner to her husband. She struggles on, bravely, frustratingly, and angrily till one day she leaves her daughters to pursue her career for three years. She literally abandons them, without looking back. Does she carry a lingering guilt of that action of hers, even now when her daughters have grown up?
This is what one suspects by her actions as she befriends Nina in the beach town. Nina on her part is feeling the same sense of suffocation, having to deal with a clingy daughter and a demanding husband. Both the woman see something of themselves in each other. In a poignant moment when Nina asks Leda how she felt leaving her daughters behind for three years, Leda replies that “it felt amazing.” Leda also, later on, confesses that she is an 'unnatural mother.'
The director uses flashbacks in creating two parallel storylines running on different timelines. One with the present-day Leda in the beach town and the other with the young Leda with her daughters. The narration keeps things interesting and helps one make important comparisons and connections.
The film as a whole is a psychological investigation into a woman who has to make a choice between maternal responsibilities and individual desires and happiness. This choice is a difficult one and there can not be any right or wrong here. All it is for us to see and absorb here is a perfectly human and emotional struggle.
The Lost Daughter is a recent release and is currently available on Netflix.