Student Critic Elizabeth Dexter reviews Maya Dardel (Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak, USA/Poland, 2016)
Maya Dardel is a novelist and poet living somewhere atop a Southern Californian mountain.
No longer able to write like her younger self, she is going to kill herself and needs someone to inherit her worldly possessions and control her intellectual reputation. This is announced on national radio but women need not apply because she doesn’t like women’s writing, the first of many unexplained, prickly assertions.
This first act, which is brilliant for eyes that enjoy rolling at literary bros like poor Moses and his poem “Holy Shit!”, is short-lived and opens out onto an altogether trickier terrain. (Indeed, the films discussion of ageing and rape teeters into sensationalist territory). Maya’s remaining contenders are handy paradigms of good and bad behaviour, Ansel who ruminates the sap on trees with a poetic furrowed brow and Paul who puts bikinis on the same trees in a symmetrical edit. There are distant but regular cracks of gunfire from Maya’s neighbour which function as a sort of moribund metronome, a reminder of the task at hand.
The film is the debut of writer-directors Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler, who certainly don't shy away from Big Themes and wield an assured and quite splendid visual style, all buoyant handheld sequences and tight close-ups of faces. Lena Olin as Maya Dardel has commanding, croaky-voiced presence and manages to rescue the film from its sometimes maddeningly oblique dialogue. Her interactions with Rosanna Arquette’s Leonora are also a welcome and tender respite. Ultimately though, one is left dizzied by a film that dances on the fault line between entertaining and a little overwrought.
Elizabeth Dexter is 21 and studies Comparative Literature at King's College London.