Joanna Hogg’s tender mother/daughter tale takes a surrealist turn in this showcase for powerhouse Tilda Swinton.
Described as a ghost story, The Eternal Daughter becomes the third in a trio of personal stories from Joanna Hogg. Julie Hart is older now, as is her mother, Rosalind, and the two of them take a trip to a country hotel that was once their family home for Rosalind’s birthday, but as the 96-minute runtime ticks by, it grows more haunting by the second.
Adding to the surrealist tone, Tilda Swinton plays both Julie and Rosalind. As Julie, she adopts mannerisms we have grown accustomed to through Honor Swinton Byrne’s performance in The Souvenir Parts I and II. Julie is older now, further into her writer/director career and is trying to write a screenplay about her mother’s experience in their family home. As time wades on, she wonders about the ethics of using familial trauma for her storytelling, which turns into a meta-commentary on the film itself. Swinton’s Rosalind is the woman we have known her as previously, but there’s something that she is keeping to herself. It’s written on her face at all times, whether through a flicker of the eye or a flinch when Julie looks away for a moment. Swinton understands the film she is in, and she plays it well at every corner.
Though Swinton is in every frame, there are a couple of supporting cast members who add to the mystery. Carly-Sophia Davies appears to be the only person running the B&B, acting as hotel receptionist and waitress, and has the most wondrous wit. She embodies the exasperated twenty-something seeking a means to an end who is tired of the nonsense that customers throw at her daily. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the warmth of Joseph Mydell, who works at the hotel and momentarily becomes resident therapist for Julie, helping her seek out the star of the show – Louis the dog – in the middle of the night.
Keeping the ensemble small allows the film to remain focused. Although it tarries in the way its predecessors do, it leads to a poignant place of emotion for its protagonists. To say too much is to spoil the portrait that Joanna Hogg has elegantly painted.
Hogg’s portrait is framed exquisitely by cinematographer Ed Rutherford, who captures the same essence at the heart of David Raedeker’s lens in the role of DP on The Souvenir films. The films exist in the same universe but not on the same planet. Each moment that passes by lends itself to the eerie quality lingering beneath the surface, and Rutherford’s eye only elevates that. It’s lit beautifully despite being dark often. There’s never a moment the eye has to seek where it’s supposed to look, a quality often overlooked but one that makes a world of difference.
Ultimately, Hogg has done it again. She makes the specific universal in the way all the best films do. There is no questioning the care or intention behind the film, and it’s a beautiful tribute to artists who struggle to make their loved ones the subjects of their work and how they try to make sense of them through it.
Should be Considered: Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography
Release Date: December 2, 2022
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Makes movies and talks about them, too. Once gave Josh Gad a Diet Coke.
Favourite Directors: Greta Gerwig and Mike Mills