Perhaps one of the more distinctive screenings of the Edinburgh Film Festival, for better or for worse, was Maya Dardel - a film which has critics split down the middle with praise and lambast alike.

I, myself, take the middle ground with directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak's character study. The study, in question, is of our titular author Maya Dardel (Lena Olin); she is preparing to take her own life but, before doing so, must find someone to take over her land, fame, fortune and the rest she has and when a couple of candidates (Nathan Keyes and Alexander Koch) pique her interest, she brings them forth and challenges them intellectually and perhaps even challenge herself in the process and so we have a film. And it’s not a half-bad film. Maya Dardel is, in essence, 90 minutes of rampant dialogue sequences between Olin’s eponymous lady and the various pawns the directors place her with.
The writing is astute and sharp; it’s perhaps an acquired taste though, boasting an ecosteric, pretentious swagger to it - a little too much so to fathom in my opinion (the directors become too shoved up their own asses that they lose focus of how to actually suspend the film above just dialogue) but it's hard to deny that there is a finesse and astuteness to the writing and the dialogue here, that is even somewhat compelling, regardless. There is an irreverence for developing much of a coherent narrative, though, and the lack of one becomes quickly apparent when the film begins to meander aimlessly after about the midway mark and the film starts to waver irrevocably. Colter and Zyzak seem so caught up in letting their pretentious, silver-spoon upbringing shine through the dialogue that they forget to actually give much depth and meat to their film beyond the conversations that quickly wears thin and their one strong character.

Of course, that one character that has the somewhat compelling carve is Dardel. She is a fascinating human with such idiosyncratic mannerisms and thought processes and it's terribly compelling to watch her handle the world, and indeed handle the men in the film: Ansel (Keyes) and Paul (Koch). Olin is a revelation in the titular role, giving an Oscar-worthy turn as our troubled and esteemed writer. Dardel is complex character, riddled with much inner turmoil and ambiguity, and Olin conveys this with such conviction. There is such nuance to her performance, to the point it almost feels effortless for Olin and just as much so for us as an audience to watch and to believe. And she fits right at home in the autumnal, often grandiose environment that DP Patrick Scolia has so beautifully shot. There's a gentle look to the shots, so simple and polished and Scolia makes use of the film’s limited locations so superbly to create an aesthetic that is often transfixing and mesmerising.

VERDICT:
Boasting an ecosteric, pretentious swagger to it, Lena Olin’s masterful performance is the saving grace that keeps Maya Dardel from completely wavering irrevocably.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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