Photo By: Noah Nickel via IMDB

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter follows the bizarre unfolding of a woman’s summer in Greece, and in doing so it unravels the past and the present simultaneously, both of which are complex and confusing while being almost beautifully ordinary. 

The film has lush scenery and detailed set-dressing with interesting camera angles and beautiful cinematography. The cinematography is painting-like and dreamy which adds to the surreal world seeped in academia that our main character Leda (Olivia Coleman) lives in. The score is a fun balance between instrumentals that set the tone and accompany the action and dad-rock nostalgic car-radio tunes.

The dialogue delights in its very human pauses, allowing moments to take as long as they need to unfold. Scenes between Leda and Will (Paul Mescal) and scenes with Leda and Nina (Dakota Johnson) are the most remarkable moments where this kind of wonderful energy and human acting are able to shine. The dialogue is awkward the way real human interaction, especially between strangers, is awkward.

Johnson plays a supporting role in the film, but her performance is captivating whenever she is on screen. Her character Nina is a young mother like Leda once was and their connection is interesting. Nina’s arc as a character is beautifully portrayed. Similarly, Jessie Buckley, who plays young Leda, gives a heartbreaking and compelling performance that works well alongside Coleman as present day Leda.

Coleman’s sad eyes allow the audience to see what she’s seeing; happy scenes on the beach are tinged by nostalgia. The camera places focus where Leda’s attention is. Will may be speaking but we see Leda’s reaction to him or to the world rather than his face. Leda is a voyeur; she watches everyone else, and the audience watches her watch them, the effect of which is very interesting.

At first, The Lost Daughter seems to really trust its audience, taking its time where it needs to and allowing us to fill in the blanks when we should. Close to the end of the film, however, it starts to drag, showing more than is necessary and lingering in parts of the story that don’t feel as important. 

Throughout the film the narrative is unpredictable; it never comes close to a familiar story structure that would allow the audience to anticipate the following beats, which creates a sense of anxiety and tension. The pacing is unpredictable and seems incredibly calculated, down to the length of time the camera rests on actors’ faces in different scenes.

The tension is interesting because while it is a movie about relatively mundane things, when big things do happen, they aren’t treated with emphasis or drama. The tension is heightened by moments where the actors are moving their hands just outside of the shot and the audience can’t quite tell what they’re doing. The Lost Daughter is tense for the sake of being tense and people who enjoy sustained psychological journeys paired with stellar visuals will likely enjoy this film for that fact. The amount of time spent exploring Leda’s psyche is something that isn’t seen very often in cinema, especially for female characters.

Overall The Lost Daughter may not be a perfect film, but anyone interested in this sustained storytelling that balances a feeling of surrealness with naturalism should check out this Netflix original.