That it does not necessarily end well with the main character of The prodigal daughterthe film adaptation of The dark fig from 2006 by Italian star author Elena Ferrante, Maggie Gyllenhaal makes it already clear in the first scene of her strong directorial debut. In a flashforward, Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) stares at the sea at night on a beach in a visibly confused state – then she collapses. It is one of the few things in this story that is immediately revealed. How Leda ends up on a beach here in the middle of the night, why she collapses: it stays shrouded in fog for a long time.
Who is Leda really, other than a woman of seemingly wealthy descent with a job at an English university, what troubled past she has with her, and why on earth she steals a doll from a child she meets on a work holiday: no life choice or the incident must be unambiguously explained here or that it must be completed.
The prodigal daughter is a rather blurry film. As a director and screenwriter, Gyllenhaal proves to be exceptionally adept at hiding and carefully revealing secrets, with the smallest possible steps, without redeeming his audience with crucial answers. As if she had never done anything else. She was awarded the Screenplay Award at the recent Venice Film Festival.
After the forward-looking opening scene, Leda now arrives on the Greek island of Spetses, where she alternates a much-needed dose of rest on the beach with a handful of university work. Distracted by a noisy family, she secretly notes the name of the beautiful young mother in the party among her notes: Nina, played by Dakota Johnson. At night she finds a giant insect in her bed, the next day an argument arises with the family about moving beach chairs. Discomfort seeps through the cracks in the film. It is almost unnoticeable, and yet it happens early: Gyllenhaal gently tightens the thumbscrews.
With the young beach tent employee Will (Paul Mescal from Normal people) she quickly finds herself in an undefined flirtation, as she does with the older principal in her vacation apartment (Ed Harris). If Nina’s daughter disappears temporarily, shoot The prodigal daughter smooth in the first flashback, as associative memories in real life sometimes just pop into your head: Leda once lost her daughter too. It is Leda who finds the girl now, but not before she secretly pushes her doll back. Several flashbacks follow with a suitable cast Jessie Buckley as the young Leda. Until the film reaches its dark core, where it turns out that Leda has temporarily left her children behind.
The power of The prodigal daughter lies in the ease with which Gyllenhaal assigns one character many traits and lets them all coexist: ruined motherhood, sexuality, depression, obsession, navigating between different classes. A richer film character is hard to imagine.
Those who know the characters from Maggie Gyllenhaal’s acting career, from her breakthrough as a sadomasochistic secretary in secretary (2002) for his powerful role as a street prostitute who becomes a porn director on the HBO series Deuce (2017-2019) reflects her penchant for layered characters that color outside of social expectations, in the protagonist of The prodigal daughter† She never thought much about instructing before she became involved in Deuce† She took on the role on the condition that she could become one of the producers. She wanted to think about the end result, for example, about how all that nudity in the series about prostitution and the burgeoning porn industry in New York in the 1970s is portrayed.
When her character in Deuce even becoming a director and doing school by constantly relying on women’s fantasies and pleasures instead of men for his films, Gyllenhaal was for the first time really fascinated by the idea of his own directorial career. “I regularly explore things through my characters until I’m brave enough to explore them in my life,” she told the magazine last summer. Vanity Fair† She first had to play film director to become one.
The last push came from the author, who publishes under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante (The great love) – and which therefore only communicates with the outside world via letter or e-mail. Gyllenhaal has been fascinated by her work for years, which has made her less well known The prodigal daughter recommended and fell in love immediately after a weekend of reading. “I wrote a letter to her in which I more or less told her I would adapt her book,” Gyllenhaal said at the New York Film Festival. “It’s good, she said, the film rights are yours, provided you direct.”
This recommendation had never been seen before: Ferrante’s novels have so far only been filmed sparingly and then exclusively in Italian.
As a director, Gyllenhaal fell back on the memories of his best acting experiences to tempt his actors into plays that do not fit into any caves. Against Deadline she said: ‘If you succeed in creating a space on the film set where there is love and respect, true love and respect, actors are willing to take the wildest risks. Then you see as a spectator people who are really learning something, instead of characters who pretend ».
All from Maggie
Elena Ferrante encouraged Maggie Gyllenhaal even more with a letter in The Guardian† “It is important to me – to her, to all women – that her work is hers,” wrote the Italian author. Female artists have worked almost their entire lives within frameworks determined by men. In other words, a cage. Now that we live in a time where that cage is being broken down, the female artist, according to Ferrante, should be ‘absolutely autonomous’.
The prodigal daughter
Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal
With Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Paul Mescal, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Dagmara Dominczyk, Peter Sarsgaard
121 min., On 42 screens, also on Netflix from December 31st