If anyone needs a holiday it’s “Leda” (Olivia Colman), introduced enjoying the Greek sunshine through the open windows of her rental car, driving carefree to her rented accommodation.
Shown to her apartment by the local caretaker “Lyle” (Ed Harris), we are unsure of her reaction, the room appears fine apart from an occasional strobe light from a nearby lighthouse. On closer inspection, a bowl of fruit appears fine on the surface but is decayed underneath.
The symbolic metaphor of the fruit resonates throughout the film, every action and interaction is just a bit “off”, from Leda’s clumsy flirting, to a search for a lost child and her much loved doll.
The first few days are enjoyable enough for retired teacher/translator Leda, relaxing on the beach attended by the lido assistant “Will” (Paul Mescal), who may or may not be the only “normal” character in the drama.
Leda’s peace is shattered when a brash and boisterous extended family arrive by boat and take over the beach. First interactions do not go well, when asked to move Leda stands her ground and alienates the newcomers.
Later, Leda takes an active interest in the parenting of a young girl by her equally youthful mother “Nina” (Dakota Johnson), acting as a mirror to Leda’s past experiences. When the girl goes missing with her much loved doll, enmities are put to one side whilst a search is undertaken.
Where the story turns from there, is unexpected and occasionally disturbing. Meandering into sub plots, the film veers abruptly away into various dead ends. Throughout, Leda remains an enigma, racked with guilt, weighed down with a prickly personality and a healthy dollop of narcissism. Desperately attempting to be “normal” but unable to break free of the emotional baggage she drags with her.
The film is interspersed with lengthy flashbacks to Leda as a young mother (Jessie Buckley), struggling to bring up two young daughters and pursue an academic career, whilst her husband provides limited help.
Colman is experienced at playing happy, contented on the surface with hidden depths of sadness, and is always interesting to watch. Buckley is a revelation, making an unsympathetic character believable despite the life choices she makes. Johnson also adds solid support in a complicated, nuanced role.
Harris gets a largely thankless task, but Peter Sarsgaard shines in a small pivotal role, able to convey a reason why one might give up so much, to chase a fleeting dream.
The film concludes with an ambiguous ending which neatly encapsulates the sense of dislocation throughout. This leaves the audience to make their own assumptions on Leda’s relationships and place in the world, or indeed if she still has one.
The film is directed by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, based on the book by Elena Ferrante.
Well acted by the central characters, in a complex story which poses more questions than answers.
If we only seek to please ourselves, will we pay for the indulgence somewhere down the line or arguably even worse, make others pay on our behalf?