The Eternal Daughter is a quiet and understated piece that doesn’t hold it back from achieving cinematic excellence. Between two thespian geniuses in Joanne Hogg and Tilda Swinton, there’s no doubt this film should command your attention even when it has you waiting for something to happen. What Hogg does here is a sign of a true artist who is in full command of her methods and vision. Together with collaborators who know how she works and bring out the best of her unique style of storytelling she makes a film that is very worthy of study. A film which is a passion project at its most bare bones. One that defies the moviemaking commercial mandate of entertainment.
The film stars Tilda Swinton in one of her more unique roles as she plays both roles of the daughter and mother. The daughter is Julie, a filmmaker who is staying with her mother at a Victorian style hotel in the English countryside. Julie feels they have not spent enough time together lately and she turns to her mother as the inspiration for her next work. She uses the time with her mom to try and discover the person behind the maternal figure that she’s come to know. Many people say that mothers will never truly be known by their sons and daughters. (Films like 20th Century Women show this inherent disconnect that comes with the maturity of a young person that makes them their own person who cannot relate to who their mother has grown up to be.) To them, they will always be a parental figure. Here, the daughter attempts to break down the barriers which make Rosaline her mother and discover who she really is, perhaps in some attempt to reconcile and explain the mother she grew up with.
The entirety of Julie’s attempts to connect and talk with her mother are under the guise of a very mysterious and shadowy location. The hotel is very remote, not many guests live in its walls and is often covered by a veil of fog. Hogg masterfully takes her personal story and paints it with a more surreal and haunting tone through her waiting cinematography and production design. Her writing purposefully maintains the isolation these characters experience to put them in an almost surreal space where the location serves more as the manifestation of the unsettled nature of the mother daughter relationship we see on screen.
Films that take this approach of dual roles of an older and younger version of a person being played by the same actor are usually absurdist comedies. If you take out the artist making this project, you can imagine a parent-child relationship being played by the same person to be the start of an Adam Sandler comedy or Judd Apatow production. Hogg knows how to take ideas that could be used in wildly different ways usually kept to the profane and brings it into the profound and almost sacred realm of familial drama and prestigious gothic prose. I say prose because the film feels like its set in the world of a Edgar Allan Poe story, a place haunting in its nature but still one that doesn’t seem supernatural in any manner.
Hogg keeps venturing into places where most filmmakers seem too afraid to tread, the personal and the patient. Its why she’s been recognized as an important auteur by several filmmakers and critics. Her continually recognized voice should pave the way for her to make more films that allow her almost total creative control. This film was specifically about her mother, and she unfortunately passed during the production of this movie. Hogg was grateful for her mother to be on set while they were making it. It provided a sense of closure art can achieve even in the face of grief. Considering the conditions of filmmaking this past year this seemed almost the perfect project for Hogg to take on. It helps continue to prove Tilda Swinton as an absolute chameleon making these two women, she plays quite distinguished from one another in mannerism and tone. This collaboration of both acting and writing between her and Hogg should be one to look out for as Hogg prepares her next project if there is a role for Swinton which there likely will be, there’s almost no way Swinton turns it down. She cares about collaborations like these and here she makes it every so apparent.
The Eternal Daughter plays with a patient tone, it never slopes into melodrama but also doesn’t feel the need to try and keep your attention through any bombastic set pieces or clear tension. Perhaps this is the tension of the film as we figure something will move us ahead in the plot, but Hogg never breaks her style to shake the audience. All her moments are quiet and seep into your mind more and more after the moment rather than grabbing you in the moment. It creates a film that’s from a true artist, a voice who deserves to be heard throughout cinema. Her style may not appease everyone but that’s clearly never been her goal nor has her goal been to make massive films of giant emotional and physical scale. She seems quite comfortable with her indie filmmaking it’s the way she wants to tell stories and this film shows it can work wonders for the right audience. That audience might be more niche than one would hope but I will certainly be checking out her Souvenir films and be looking forward to what she makes next because it will undoubtably be a unique and challenging film experience.
Eternal Daughter is available in theatres on Friday, December 9th, 2022.