Maggie Gyllenhaal Talks ‘Lost Daughter’ and Motherhood Truths at Montclair Film Festival

On Sunday, October 24th, Maggie Gyllenhaal sat down with Stephen Colbert at the 10th annual Montclair Film Festival. Photos: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film

When talking to Stephen Colbert at the Montclair Film Festival Sunday afternoon, Maggie Gyllenhaal recounted a nightly ritual that took place while filming her directorial debut THE LOST DAUGHTER in Greece last year. After each exhausting day of filming, Gyllenhaal would collapse in bed with her daughters snuggled on either side watching “The Great British Bake Off” as she fell asleep.

If this scene of maternal coziness had taken place in THE LOST DAUGHTER however, Gyllenhaal wouldn’t have been able to drowse off. One of her daughters might have roughly brushed her hair or started screaming for a doll and Gyllenhaal might have reacted equally roughly, screaming back and forcefully pushing the offender away. Or else stumbling zombie-like around her set the next day.


This hard truth about motherhood — so absent from the cultural conversation — was what attracted Gyllenhaal to Elena Ferrante’s 2008 novel of the same name. Gyllenhaal wrote the screen adaptation of the novel.

The film stars Olivia Colman as Leda, a professor of comparative literature in her late 40s, alone on vacation in Greece. The vacation proceeds uncomfortably, as Leda is beset by minor intrusions from both the physical and human worlds. But the discomfort goes deep with the arrival of a loud group of American tourists, whose children stir Leda’s memories of raising young children herself while struggling to build an academic career.

Despite strong performances by Ed Harris and Gyllenhaals’ husband Peter Sarsgaard, the movie is dominated by women, little girls and uncomfortable truths about motherhood. It’s an uncomfortable truth about Hollywood that such movies are rarely box-office hits. In response to an audience member’s question, Gyllenhaal expressed gratitude to Netflix, which will release the movie in late December, for giving her movie a life beyond its run in movie theaters.

The movie received a standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival, with both Gyllenhaal and Colman in the audience. Gyllenhaal didn’t stay for the screening at MKA, but was presented with the festival’s Breakthrough Director & Writer Award by film festival executive director Tom Hall after the Colbert session.

Maggie Gyllenhaal receiving award. Photos: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film

“Last year was the first time we offered a Breakthrough Director award, which went to Lee Isaac Chung for MINARI and he was subsequently nominated for the Directing Oscar for the film,” said Hall. “So fingers crossed!” Hall praised Gyllenhaal for her “total command” as a director and for presenting a film that pushes audiences to examine themselves.

Montclair Film Executive Director Tom Hall and Dagmara Domińczyk from “The Lost Daughter.” Photos: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film

The point was made by actress Dagmara Domińczyk, who bounded onto the stage after the screening for a talkback and asked cheerfully, “How are you doing, mothers?”

We all laughed — perhaps, a bit uncomfortably.

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.