The Eternal Daughter
Reviewed for FilmFactual by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Joanna Hogg
Writer: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Joseph Mydell, Carly-Sophia Davies
Screened at: FYC screener, LA, 12/2/22
Opens: December 2nd, 2022
It’s interesting to see what happens when a director and an actor collaborate multiple times. In some cases, they may take on similar roles in each effort, and may also push each other to try new things, be it an onscreen part or an unfamiliar genre. Joanna Hogg and Tilda Swinton worked together on The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II, films which both starred Swinton’s real-life daughter Honor Swinton Byrne. Without Byrne in the cast this time, The Eternal Daughter finds Swinton playing both mother and daughter, a fascinating exercise clearly executed in concert with her familiar director.
Julie (Swinton) arrives at night to a small hotel with her mother Rosalind (Swinton). Upon checking in, she learns from the unfriendly receptionist that the room that she has reserved is not available, and makes other inquiries to ensure that they will be properly set up. This place is their former home, and there is much they have to discuss about their relationship with each other and events that transpired long ago in a place that now looks very different but holds much meaning for both of them.
Hogg has established herself, with The Souvenir and its sequel in particular, as a filmmaker who is not in a rush to tell her stories. She allows them to play out slowly, discovering things along the way without a visible guiding hand to push the narrative along. At times, that can be frustrating, but there is also a beauty to it that allows the characters to speak for themselves, and for the unveiling of meaningful moments in a subtle and poignant way. Compared with her previous two films, The Eternal Daughter is even shorter, clocking in at just 96 minutes, and also seems to move somewhat faster despite the presence of just two protagonists.
What’s most marvelous about this film, of course, is Swinton herself. Even when she doesn’t work with Hogg, Swinton often chooses slow-paced material, like last year’s Colombian Oscar entry Memoria, and demonstrates a tremendous focus in each of her scenes. This year, she also appeared opposite Idris Elba in Three Thousand Years of Longing and in two memorable voice roles in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio. Swinton could act without any partner and still be mesmerizing, and this film allows her to do just that, though the assignment is double.
Swinton goes far beyond what others have done in playing twin siblings or clones. Instead, she becomes two radically different people, both of mild temperament but with different experiences and at far removed points of their lives. Neither is particularly energetic or enthusiastic, and it’s intriguing to see the subtle differences between them that Swinton is able to draw out. It does feel as if there are two actresses working in tandem rather than just one switching back and forth to inhabit separate entities. The way in which they speak to each other is also fascinating, indicating a lifetime’s worth of interactions that have led to this dynamic in which Julie is the more physically able one years after being raised by her now-elderly mother.
The look of The Eternal Daughter is reminiscent of Hogg’s previous films, focused intently on the faces of its characters and presenting a subdued and somewhat colorless backdrop for them. Most scenes take place within the hotel or just outside of it, creating a prison of sorts from which this mother and daughter may not escape, but also something that links them deeply to their past and potentially to their future. Not all audiences will connect with the pacing or subject of this character study, but there’s plenty of interesting content to be found and gleaned from Swinton’s double performance and Hogg’s guidance of those turns.
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B