Review: Lena Olin Shines As 'Maya Dardel'

The film, Maya Dardel, is set in the literary world of the character who the movie is titled after. An accomplished hypocritical, up-front, comfortable in her womanhood, author and poet, Maya, is tasked with finding an heir and executor to her estate as they campaign for the opportunity after she publicly announces that she's killing herself since her "work is in decline [and] sees no need in writing more mediocre books."

I thought that Lena Olin gave a fine performance as the lead, Maya Dardel, a woman who is a "paradox outside of any moral category and a bad judge." Though, her purposeful affectation of a monotone, vocal fry induced speech made it a bit distracting and also difficult to understand at times, I do think that it was a good decision on her part to show just how existential, lonely, and aloof she was. Even though I believe Lena did a great job of bringing Maya to life, I must say that the character of Maya was one of the pitfalls for the film. She had no real redeeming qualities and her lack of character development made it hard for me to really connect with her and her story.

This movie wasn't so much about the end game of Maya's suicide as much as it was about the process of, in her mind, the game of finding the right heir to her literary throne. So, because this was represented by a story that centers around Maya, this in turn became one of Maya's defining characteristics; someone that gets turned on by the power, belittling, validation and adoration, chastising, and sex that accompanied her means of figuring out just which man would be her executor.

The story itself relied on her encounters with various hopefuls to drive much of the beginning of the film, where some men got more airtime than others (literally, as you'll quickly find out that Maya is a Harvey Weinstein and any other top executive or boss in her own way, a decision that felt hypocritically gratifying because it's not often that you get to see women as the dominator, but also made me extremely uncomfortable given the recent times). Because of this it also made me wonder why, when the decision was down to just two men, they chose to endure her rather abusive behavior. Nathan Keyes - who eerily resembles a young Ewan McGregor, a la Trainspotting - as the character of Ansel, a sheltered, quiet, young man, with Mommy issues, and Alexander Koch, as testosterone-driven Paul, the other young man who is the exact opposite of Ansel in every way, matching Maya's straightforwardness, tit for tat, know-it-all aura, are the two men who are vying for the top spot.

Maybe one of the points of the movie is to get us to question the high regard that people in general have for people of a certain status and profession given the horrible ways that she treats these men. If that's the case, then I suppose I should have no real complaints about Maya being the same woman as she was in the beginning of the movie as she was in the end since the story would be dependent more on the men's reactions to her unwavering behavior. However, if the filmmakers did want for the audience to, at the least, empathize with Maya in any way, I don't think that not having Maya go through any significant, dynamic changes was the best way to do that.

I loved the cinematography of the film. The framing and composition especially, I thought were extremely well done and provided an extra sense of distance between certain characters while bringing attention to others within certain scenes. This is a rather more subdued, quiet, and dialogue-driven film, that comes off as a character study more than anything else. It's not something that you can passively watch but it's also not extremely engaging either. We're meant to simply have a peak in on someone who is about to make the biggest decision of her life. It's not the easiest watch because it is so slow, but I think that the performances, visuals, and some of the dialogue helps to make up for it.

This film opens in theaters on October 27, 2017

Rating: 3 out of 5