British director Joanna Hogg, whose diptych The Souvenir (2019) and The Souvenir: Part II (2021) explored in a semi-autobiographical way her beginnings in cinema and a personal relationship that marked her life, delves in The Eternal Daughter (2022), premiered at the 79th Venice Film Festival, into family intimacy, memories of another life, that of her mother, and her own feelings about her.
Hogg’s way of working is a pure open investigation that, without the corset of a millimetric script and rigid dialogues, finds the final and definitive fit in a collective work with his collaborators. In this case, Tilda Swinton, whose relationship with the director dates back to her first short film Caprice (1986), has been a necessary accomplice in the elaboration of a cinematographic artifact as personal in form as in substance. Hogg’s cinema moves away from the literalness of memory, because his interest is not in the portrait but in the process and its results. As such, he accepts that along the way new approaches to old memories may appear, transforming the experience and endowing it with illuminating meaning.
For The Eternal Daughter, with Martin Scorsese as executive producer, the director has opted for genre to shape her story, and has chosen a stylized ghost story to manifest her simple plot through mystery, as her protagonists need determined courage to face what is apparently an innocuous experience. Like the fog that envelops the hotel that the old family mansion has become, memories are hidden or unveiled, and show us that to enter the twists and turns of ancestry requires enough courage to face and resolve even the slightest feelings of loss, guilt, self-reproaches or grudges.
Skillfully, in a decision based on a suggestion of the protagonist, Tilda Swinton, the two main characters are played by the actress, a mother and a daughter who spend a few days together, in a harmony that shows a deep affection and dependence of this one towards the other. Family ties haunt us until the end of our lives, and in the case of The Eternal Daughter, the daughter of the story even comes to resent previous relationships and events that she has not lived through, since these tissues are eternal and indiscernible. Julie, who in fiction is a film director, hopes in those days that the memories of her mother, Rosalind (the same name as the mother in The Souvenir), which she records on her cell phone, will help her in a new project, although she is stuck and cannot find the right way to approach it. A short stay at the hotel where they are apparently the only guests – although the receptionist denies it – will finally serve to unlock her inspiration, once she resolves her inner conflicts.
The hotel’s corridors and staircases, the fog-shrouded garden, and the mysterious hotel employees seem to harbor a secret that we hope to see revealed at some point. That resolution, like the rest of the film, will emerge in Julie’s innermost self, undoing a tension connected to her family ghosts, which she had allowed to grow stronger over the years. The long talks between Hogg and Swinton, old friends, about their respective mothers and the ties of love and blockage that united them, resulted in a film that transpires at the same time love, longing and grief.
As could not be otherwise, Swinton absolutely convinces us with her acting style, whose peculiar naturalness will continue to impress us in each new film, once again doubly so. In The Eternal Daughter, which once again has Ed Rutherford as cinematographer, she is brilliantly accompanied by Joseph Mydell, Carly-Sophia Davies and Alfie Sankey-Green. And we should be grateful that filmmakers like Joanna Hogg continue to seduce us with their great little films, where rooms can hold a whole universe and visual reflections are a weapon loaded with truth.