Maya | 2018 Toronto Intl. Film Festival Review
Maya Love is Your Love: Hansen-Love Stumbles with Sluggish Romantic Drama
Following on the heels of her most widely acclaimed feature to date, 2016’s Things to Come (review), which nabbed her a Best Director win out of the Berlin International Film Festival (making her one of three women to hold this distinction to date), French auteur Mia Hansen-Love’s sixth feature, Maya, arrives as something of a disappointment. Documenting the slow-burn romance between a traumatized French war-reporter and a younger Indian woman still figuring out what she wants to do with her life, Hansen-Love includes many of her favored themes, which would include utilizing actor Roman Kolinka (who also appeared in Eden and Things to Come). And yet the film fails to move beyond the taxing lethargy of its protagonist, a shell-shocked man whose significant issues tend to eclipse the titular character of Hansen-Love’s story, a young woman whose depths never clearly crystallize.
After rescued from captivity in Syria, thirty-year-old French war correspondent Gabriel (Kolinka) struggles with deliberating his next move. Somewhat despondent but not looking to reexperience the trauma through counseling or therapy, he leaves behind his father and a sympathetic ex-girlfriend (Judith Chemla) as he takes off to India, where his childhood home sits empty. There, he reexamines some unresolved issues, as he was forced to leave the house with his father after his mother abandoned them when he was just a boy. His godfather Monty (Pathy Aiyar) runs a high-end resort next door to his home, but a lack of business and corporate takeover finds the man restructuring his family’s future with his second wife Sigrid (Suzan Anbeh) and his aimless daughter Maya (Aarshi Banerjee), who will soon be off to Sydney to attend college. Despite their age difference, it is his interactions with Maya which allow for his reintegration to normalcy.
In comparison to Hansen-Love’s formidable body of work, Maya plays like a sister film to 2011’s Goodbye First Love, although prizing a masculine perspective this time around. But much like 2014’s Eden, there’s an absence in rich texture otherwise seen in her strongest works, such as The Father of My Children (2009) and Things. But even on its own merits, free of the clutter of expectations, Maya is rather a meandering trudge through not only Gabriel’s repressed nadir but also his eventual romance with Maya. The writing might be on the wall as early as their introduction, but how their expression of desire transpires is never quite convincing.
Arguably, the only real taboo or noteworthy element is the appearance of newcomer Aarshi Banerjee due to how young she looks. Her intimate sequences with Kolinka, here recuperating from the physical ravages of being a POW, have an unexpectedly uncomfortable quality, like some of those 1970s Bertrand Blier films where Patrick Dewaere and Gerard Depardieu canoodled with girls much too young for them.
War-reporters have become something of a popular subgenre—in recent memory, Juliette Binoche, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Isabelle Huppert have all been utilized to ruminate on the personality types required for such a perilous profession. Hansen-Love takes pains to peer into Gabriel’s past, which allows for the film’s most expressive moment, shared between Kolinka and Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege (of Sluizer’s first The Vanishing, 1988) and their pained estrangement.
If the film is so named for Maya because she is the responsible factor for bringing Gabriel back to life, a few more developmental sequences between them might have helped us to believe it. Instead, Kolinka shares more emotional chemistry with his colleague and ex-hostage survivor Alex Descas (the wonderful character featured in a variety of Claire Denis films). A sinister subplot involving corporate takeover, which accounts for some mild patches of violence (including arson) also seems to be incorporated as a futile gesture. Had Maya been an earlier Hansen-Love film, such shortcomings might have seemed more forgivable. Unfortunately, there’s nothing imperative about Maya and Gabriel’s potentially transformative connection.
Reviewed on September 10th at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme. 110 Mins.