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PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2022 5:09 pm 
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JOANNA HOGG: THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER (2022) - NYFF

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TILDA SWINTON IN THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER

A trip north

The Eternal Daughter may be categorized as a film of horror or the supernatural, but devotees of either will doubtless be disappointed. Numerous critics describe it as "a distinctly minor work" by the director, whose 2019 The Souvenir brought her to wide attention, and to mine. It's worth going back and watching all her three earlier features, Unrelated, Archipelago and Exhibition: they're not fun watches, but the unfun-ness is distinctly her own, upper middle class British constraints and torments that will seem to grow out of, not lead into, the autobiographical film student with the unfortunate posh boyfriend of The Souvenir. The underimpressed critics also say The Eternal Daughter, which serves as a sequel to The Souvenir II, the end of a trilogy, that it is "slooow."

Well, The Eternal Daughter is unique, and while I'd agree it has its longeurs, and is almost Beckettian in its uneventfulness. it's also subtle and beautiful, and the performance at the center of it by Tilda Swinton as both Julie Hart, a filmmaker, and Rosalind Hart, her mother, whom the hyper-attentive Julie takes to a big old, apparently empty hotel for her birthday, is remarkable. The double performance is not just a stunt, It's also a brilliant idea central to the film's themes and ideas, which magnify and unfold over time like the old Japanese paper flowers that grew when you dipped them in water. And all this isn't just cleverness. It serves to deliver hard emotional honesty that characterizes Hogg's best moments in the other films. After the slow passages, as I watched, the emotion grew, and at the end I was devastated with a still unfolding sense of sorrow too deep for tears.

Hogg makes much use of the horror vibe and genre ticks throughout - a pale face in a window; knocks in the night; Rosalind's setter Louis (the canine companion an important character in many a family), brought along, disappearing and then popping up back in the room; the odd, unfriendly "staff;" the confounding corridors and rooms; the fog outside - and all these events and things allow for the general feeling we have that something strange is going on. Many will doubtless guess the film's secret early on. That's unimportant. It's all in the very distinctive nuance of the film and the interchanges between Julie and Rosalind. It's very important that until the end, a two-shot doesn't occur. You see Julie saying something, then you see - or will you see? You never know - Rosalind. And yes, you're very aware that both are Tilda Swinton in two different sorts of drag. The Rosalind drag includes peculiarly subtle aging makeup. She's not made to look very old. (A very old woman is seen toward the end, in a kind of coda and subtly spooky jolt.) You're marveling at the costumer's and makeup artist's art and the acting, but you're very aware that you're watching Tilda Swinton.

And all this is kind of creepy, if not what you'd call "horrible." Or maybe it is; maybe you can anticipate a Hitchcockian shock coming. It's not like that. It's more like the air goes out of the tire. (Or tyre.) The more overt horror-supernatural vibe comes from the great aristocratic house in Wales that Julie and Rosalind are staying at. It is a place, then in private hands, where Rosalind, as a young girl, was sent with other family members to escape the bombing during the War. But Julie doesn't know much about this. She has devoted much of her life to caring about and loving her mother - she has a husband, but no children - but her mother remains largely a mystery to her. Other later visits to the house turn out to have occurred later, and things happened, not happy memories, that Julie didn't know about. The place is beautiful, in a mournful way. The accoutrements of the rooms, even the keys at the front desk, are handsome. the ornate, formal landscaping outside, shrouded often in cinematic fog, is beautiful in its layers of green. The exterior shots look like subtle color lithographs.

The place isn't particularly friendly. Julie and Rosalind are greeted by a grumpy receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies), who also reappears as the waitress at the dining room (and there are only four dishes on the menu). Is Harold Pinter an influence? This is in some ways like a magnificently visually expanded play, a chamber drama, a drama in the head. A warmer character is a groundskeeper (Joseph Mydell) who talks to Julie a few times and comforts and shares an understanding of loss. He says his wife died a year ago.

Julie is here to celebrate Rosalind's birthday - or is she? The birthday celebration turns out to be grotesque and sad, family happiness gone wrong, though a bottle of champagne is uncorked and poured from and a birthday cake is brought in. Julie chooses to bring it in herself. But whenever Julie and Rosalind are seated talking together at meals, Julie surreptitiously sets her smartphone out to record the conversation. Early on she's said she's here to work, on a new film presumably, and she goes to a special place to do so, but she can't sleep, she's uncomfortable, and she goes day after day without getting any work done. The other use of the smartphone is to try to talk to her husband. This she has to do out in front of the hotel pacing about near a hedge trying to get reception, which isn't good. And the wi-fi is patchy in the building as well.

These descriptions sound ordinary enough. But in Joanna Hogg's skilled hands and the meticulous, complicated interchanges of Tilda and Tilda, they resonate with meanings you go on pondering long after the film is over. The heart of the matter is the confrontation of lives and family relationships, the permanent, difficult, mysterious, inescapable ones. The daughter is "eternal" because filial relationships never end. Imagine making a movie about your mother and its turning out to be a sort of horror film. Others would make a story that's joyous and celebratory. But where is the truth? I remember the priest who Malraux talks about in his Anti-Memoirs who, questioned on what he had learned about people from thirty years of hearing confession, gave two ideas; there is no such thing as a grownup person; and people are much less happy than they appear. But the scenes we have watched have been an expiation. And the end Julie has come thorough and is typing away on her laptop: the new film has come to her. This one.

If any of this sounds intriguing, you are urged to see The Eternal Daughter. It's a marvelous film, a study of grief, memory and family relationships that cuts to the bone. A minor work? Remember the little Fragonard painting in the Wallace Collection in The Souvenir. That whole film grows out of it.

The Eternal Daughter, 96 mins., debuted Sept. 6, 2022 at Venice, showing at nine or more other international festivals, including Toronto, Zurich, London, New York (Main Slate), Vienna, Seville, AFI, Thessaloniki and Marrakech. Limited US theatrical release and on itnernet Dec. 2, 2022. Metacritic rating: 79%.

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