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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Gotham Award sweep for THE LOST DAUGHTER ignites Award Season lift-off

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Most popularly known for that face-off with the Joker in smash hit THE DARK KNIGHT as “Batman’s girlfriend,” Maggie Gyllenhaal has come so very far from the bat cave. While Gyllenhaal’s first feature THE LOST DAUGHTER just swept the Gotham Awards, including top gongs for best screenplay and director and a tie for lead Olivia Colman, the momentum for this stunner began back in festival rotation at the Venice Film Festival in September.

In a searingly powerful performance by Olivia Colman, she plays Leda with such gut-wrenching force that her English Professor persona might as well have been a CGI mask that melts in the hellish summer vacation as she stalks a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and is in turn stalked by the mother-in-law (Dagmara Domińczyk). Jessie Buckley, also nominated for a Gotham Award, plays the flashback version of Olivia Colman’s Leda, in a tortured dance as an ambitious working mother who must step away from her own child to keep her sanity. 

You nearly forget that it is Ed Harris who plays the villa innkeeper, where Leda stays for a quiet vacation, because his performance is so elegantly quiet as the interplay of mothers begin their delicate and wondrously frightening maternal dance. 

Every Mother archetype is played to utter perfection, led by the conflicted hecate Colman, Dakota Johnson as the maiden mom, Buckley as the ambivalent possibly abusive overwhelmed working mama, and finally Dagmara Domińczyk as the iron-fisted matriarch. 

THE LOST DAUGHTER finds traction for Award Season

Whether you are a parent or not, this hard look into the shattering bits of motherhood feels like a secret revealed at last, as even the innocence of children’s toys takes on a sinister nuance. In a word? It is flooring. THE LOST DAUGHTER floors you as the grinding love for a child is seen in broad daylight for all its self-immolating subtext. Upon seeing the film in rotation at Film Fest 919 (Chapel Hill, NC) weeks ago, it actually felt un-reviewable at first with some much needed distance and thought required for this electrically charged reflection on maternity.

Gyllenhaal described a similar experience with the source material, a book by Elena Ferrante, at Venezia 78 Competition during the world premiere. “When I read the novel, ‘The Lost Daughter,’ something came through to me that was very strange and painful but also undeniably true,” she revealed. “Some secret piece of my experience as a mother, as a lover, as a woman in the world was being spoken out loud for the first time.”

The Director also cast (husband) Peter Sarsgaard in yet another layered and meaningful piece of the family puzzle we assemble during our lives. “And I thought, how exciting and dangerous to create an experience like that—not quiet and alone with a book—but in a room full of living, feeling people. What would it feel like to sit next to your own mother or husband or daughter or wife as common feelings and experiences that have been kept hidden are exposed?”

The native New Yorker’s foray into directing in her mid-forties, 44 now, seems sparked by the “terror and a danger in relating to someone struggling through things that we’ve been told are shameful or ugly. But when those experiences are put up on screen there’s also the opportunity to feel comforted—If someone else has these thoughts and feelings, maybe I’m not alone. This is a part of our experience that is only articulated rarely, and mostly through aberration, disjuncture, or dreaming.”

See Netflix’s THE LOST DAUGHTER, it is contender and a helluva debut film.

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