The Subversive Cinematography of Netflix’s ‘The Lost Daughter’

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The mind of Leda Caruso is a complicated place, brought to always vivid, sometimes erotic, occasionally terrifying life by writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal and her director of photography, Hélène Louvart.

Marking Gyllenhaal’s feature directorial debut, The Lost Daughter (on Netflix Friday) is adapted from the novel by Elena Ferrante, and follows a literature scholar on vacation in Greece as she encounters a rambunctious—and, maybe, dangerous—family, whose various incidents and dramas take her back to her own struggles in motherhood. If relatively light on plot, the drama makes for an ingeniously claustrophobic experience, forcing the audience into Leda’s inner-life as she reckons with her choices and still-unresolved feelings about being a parent, daughter, and human being in the world. (Olivia Colman plays Leda in the present, with Jessie Buckley starring as her younger counterpart via flashbacks.)

The evocative script accomplishes plenty in that department, but so too does the precise cinematography. The French-born Louvart—whose 30-plus-year career has spanned films helmed by Léos Carax, Agnès Varda, and Claire Denis—plays off of classic cinematic tropes and genres, deftly depicting womanhood as it has historically been captured on film, before delving into these familiar images’ darker, deeper, oft-unspoken truths. The result is a bold and uncompromising debut, stuffed with frames that tell the story both of a complex heroine, and of a thrilling collaboration between a first-time director and a legendary DP. 

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