Top Ten Movies of 2021 — Number Four

The Lost Daughter, the feature directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, is dense with the anxiety of simply living. Adapted, by Gyllenhaal, from a 2006 novel by Elena Ferrante, the film follows Leda (Olivia Colman), a college professor who is on a working vacation in Greece. Seeking nurturing solitude, Leda is instead drawn into little skirmishes across the idyllic beachside town, many of them catalyzed by a sprawling, squabbling family. In particular, the stress felt by a young mother (Dakota Johnson) inspires Leda’s unwilling recollections of her own time being worn away by the chaotic energy of caretaking small children. With the precision of a aeronautical engineer, Colman explores the emotional unraveling of the character, and her performance has a stunning companion piece in Jessie Buckley’s turn as a the young version of Leda, grasping to her sense of self as parenthood pushes her to escalating levels of exasperation and uncertainty. The narrative practically dares a filmmaker to take the most precarious approach possible, and Gyllenhaal is fully to the challenge. She uses visual structure to convey the weight of onrushing memories, and artfully weaves in hints of the unreal carry deafening echoes of quietly seething, confrontational themes. Especially as a first film, The Lost Daughter is a work of uncommon confidence and accomplishment.

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