In most films - be it a Hollywood, Bollywood or a local production - female characters are usually baked in to pose as beauties, rather than exposing the reality and universality of womanhood. But every once in a while, a movie will come through that challenges the typecast roles given to women.
'The Lost Daughter', the film adaptation of Elena Farrante's 2006 novel of the same name, is one such move. It is an intriguing take on primal motherhood, the scuffles emerging from maternal love, lust, and the intellectual pursuits of a mother. This film also marks Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut.
The film stars Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Domińczyk, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard and Ed Harris.
The story starts with Leda (Olivia Colman), a middle aged professor of Comparative Literature, taking a working holiday in an unnamed island in Greece.
She tries to enjoy her work vacation by settling in, reading on the beach, swimming and trying to sleep at night, although the terrible beam from the nearby lighthouse swoops through her room like a horror movie.
Leda meets Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother, with her three-year-old daughter, Elena. The bond between the mother and daughter intrigues her.
One day at the beach, Elena goes missing but Leda finds her and returns her to Nina. Later, in a conversation, Nina expresses her growing exhaustion and unhappiness with motherhood and her life.
Elena becomes upset after she apparently loses something she cherishes.
From that point forward the film walks on the borderline idea that Leda might not be as polite and nice as she seems. The remainder of the film explores this idea elaborately.
In flashback, we get to see a young Leda (Jessie Buckley) struggling with being a young mother to two daughters, Bianca and Martha.
The young Leda is an instinctive mother who is academically driven and confounded in the web of ambition, lust and appreciation. She also feels a strong connection with her daughters.
She often loses her patience and becomes withdrawn from her family due to her devotion to her academic pursuit and ambition. Her husband (Jack Farthing) appears unhelpful with their kids.
One day Leda goes shopping and meets Nina. She helps Nina with a simple task, which turns out to have a deeper meaning at the end of the film.
It is later revealed that she left her daughters for three years while divorcing her husband and the marriage was broken by an affair she had with her professor (Peter Sarsgaard) during a literary conference.
The present Leda, however, has a bit of clarity about her own image and knows that she is a very selfish person. As the movie progresses, the idea becomes clearer that her life, like all people, is filled with grief for things she did to herself and to her daughters who wanted her around.
One of the major ideas of the movie is about the challenges of motherhood while maintaining a career and tackling the sharp gaze of society on women.
The protagonist, Leda, has portrayed her perception of the world through her laughter, cries and regrets.
'The Lost Daughter' is a portrayal of personal abandonment which is complicated and blurry, yet sharp with intrusive thoughts.
This is also a movie about self discovery and passion, with both placed opposite to each other, in a series of beautifully placed flashbacks.
With Helen Louvart's delicate closeups, Gyllenhaal tried to venture into the dangerous mind of Leda, who actively tests society's definition of motherhood.
She also took on a challenge to narrate the language of Ferrante's book where the internal monolog of Leda is a dizzy, feverlike and dreamlike cascading mess filled with memories, colorful reveries, and emotional outbursts. It is filled with clouds of ambivalent psychological signs that helped Gyllenhaal find her own cinematic language.
The 'unnatural mother', as described by Leda, stands as a sharp contrast to the typeset of mothers shown in Hollywood - the perfect mother as opposed to the monster mother.
This notion gives rise to questions such as: What is a natural mother and are there terms that make a mother natural and unnatural?
The visual narrative of the movie, built on pacing and pausing, directly evokes the ambiguity of Leda. The audience is forced to see the story through the eyes of three women - the present Leda, her alter ego Nina and Young Leda in flashbacks.
A spellbinding performance by the actors and Gyllenhaal's brilliant direction makes this movie one of the remarkable films of 2021.
This is a film for an adult audience and provides mixed feelings of joy, discomfort and sadness through metaphors.