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The Eternal Daughter ★★★



Director: Joanna Hogg

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Carly-Sophia Davies, Joseph Mydell

ReleaseLondon Film Festival 2022

Coming off the back of quite the most marvellously rewarding and utterly vulnerable self-reflexive tale of grief with The Souvenir: Part 2, Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter sinks its spectator into the ethereal, murky smog of the British countryside. Here, we follow a senior, Julie Hart, now played by Tilda Swinton, and her elderly mother, Rosalind, also played by Swinton, as they arrive at an archaic manor that Rosalind once inhabited as a child. On a mother and daughter birthday retreat away from the complexities of metropolis life, the two arrive to find that spectres of a past life inhabit the quaint, isolated landscape. A tale of corporeal suffering and self-condemnation tied in with a lamentation of the past that never quite reaches the palpable sense of human transparency that was entirely mustered in Hogg’s previous work.

The Eternal Daughter’s atmosphere and landscape is an essential character in its narrative. From the unilluminated narrow corridors of the manor, turned hotel; to the swathing cloak of the fog outside; tied in with an eerie, eldritch cacophonous sound design and score, Hogg’s formal mastery oozes through the celluloid. Juxtaposing the modernisms of technology against the lived-in furnishings of the manor sets up an interesting dichotomy between what once was and what is now. This is fundamentally the basis for Hogg’s musings. It is just the foundations of the manor that stir up a sensory flood of emotions for Julie, particularly damaging her ability to sleep. This being most prominent in its oneiric first act, The Eternal Daughter, sets itself up to be quite the most enrapturing audiovisual experience. A similar metaphysical approach is taken in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s transcendent masterwork Memoria. However, Hogg’s composition sadly does not once deliver an overbearing, emotional gut-punch.

Self-examination through the prism of grief, aligned with a narrative realm where humans and spirits coexist, is typically a devastating combo. Yet, The Eternal Daughter endlessly gets caught up in its grandiose presentation, forgetting its confessional predecessor’s magic and sensitive empathy. The most devastating part of the ordeal is that Hogg gives us inserts of this compassion, yet these few fleeting moments never transpire into anything of significance. Swinton’s protagonists are dazzlingly played about their physicality and the way they inhabit the space around them. Still, the emotional clarity feels guarded and bare in conjunction with the film’s overall hypothesis.

The 96-minute runtime is faultless in its presentation and form, but the takeaway isn’t there. A vacant, expressionless chasm that yearns to be filled. A conscious sense of disappointment sets in as the credits roll, as it isn’t a rejection of The Eternal Daughter but a taste of the magnitude that it could have obtained. Maybe this sense of a missed opportunity is precisely what Hogg was going for. Still, after its mesmerising set-up, you can’t help but think that The Eternal Daughter could have been a naked and vulnerable extension to Hogg’s oeuvre.

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