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The Best Movies on Netflix (2023) 20. The Lost Daughter


Hazel Wyatt

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Year: 2021
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Stars: Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dagmara Dominczyk, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris
Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes

 

On the beach that comparative literature scholar Leda (Olivia Colman) lounges on throughout The Lost Daughter, the skies are a crystal blue, the beaches a shimmering white, the water warm and translucent. But the shore is also infested with crass, noisy people; Leda’s fruit infected by a malignant rot; her bedroom contaminated with screeching bugs; a little girl’s doll corrupted by noxious black liquid and writhing insects. This tonal tension is symptomatic of the film’s spirit: It’s a glossy apple, rapidly decaying from the inside out. The film takes place over a couple of days as Leda settles into a lavish working vacation. Her relaxation is interrupted, however, when she first lays eyes on Nina (Dakota Johnson), a beautiful, inscrutable young mother. Leda becomes obsessed with Nina, as the latter inadvertently resurfaces troubling memories of Leda’s own distressing experiences as a mother. From that moment onward, Leda’s haunting memories permeate The Lost Daughter until the apple is completely black. While the narrative itself, adapted from Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name, is relatively straightforward, debut director Maggie Gyllenhaal, who also wrote the screenplay, tackles themes of internalized and externalized sexism with agility and complexity. Leda’s subtle, complex mental state would not have been possible to convey were it not for Gyllenhaal’s outstanding visual sensibilities. Leda’s struggles are largely internal, but I’m confident that Gyllenhaal’s uniquely tactile storytelling says a great deal more than words ever could. When Leda caresses Elena’s grimy doll, her touch is gentle and somehow filled with regret. When she slides a pin into Nina’s hat, it sounds sinister like a sword being unsheathed, but her careful placement is almost sensual. And when a younger Leda slices the flesh of an orange, her smooth, tactful carving almost feels ominous. Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary direction, paired with exceptional performances from The Lost Daughter’s lead actresses, culminate in a perfect storm that yields an astute portrait of the painful expectations of womanhood.—Aurora Amidon

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