starring Tilda Swinton, Carly-Sophia Davies, Joseph Mydell, Alfie Sankey-Green
written and directed by Joanna Hogg
by Angelo Muredda Joanna Hogg follows up her autobiographical The Souvenir films with a formal digestif in The Eternal Daughter, which filters her usual thematic preoccupations with memory, space, and creation born of loss through the appropriate genre container of English ghost stories, with style and warmth to spare. A gently spooky, dryly funny, and mournful B-side to those films, as well as a companion piece to her earlier texts where personal relationships are tested away from home in rented villas (Unrelated) and cottages (Archipelago), the film stars Hogg's childhood friend and frequent collaborator Tilda Swinton, who reprises her Souvenir role as an older version of patrician mother Rosalind while also standing in for her own daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, as Rosalind's daughter Julie, a filmmaker who routinely mines her personal life in her artistic practice. Eager to finally learn more about her buttoned-up mother--and, Rosalind suspects, spin new work out of her stories--Julie treats Rosalind (and her dog) to a memory-jogging birthday stay at a mansion from her youth that's now a deserted, mist- and foliage-enshrouded hotel occupied only by the brusque night clerk (brimming with eat-the-rich intensity by Carly-Sophia Davies) and kindly late-night groundskeeper (Joseph Mydell). The women exchange sad stories and pour over the stingy four items on the menu in the seemingly haunted hotel while the days and nights wear on, unceremoniously marked by their routines of dog-walking, pill-taking, and tiptoeing late at night amidst the mysterious sounds of an open window rattling in the wind.
Structured via the elliptical repetition and occasional disruption of those routines, The Eternal Daughter is a tight, minor-key affair for Hogg after the ambition of The Souvenir and its sequel. It's a welcome reprieve, an autumnal text befitting both the middle-aged chapter in Julie's creative biography and her bedtime reading of Rudyard Kipling's country house ghost story "They." The genre framework suggested by that reading and the signifiers of dreary country roads, lonely nocturnal walks through hallways and courtyards, and strange sounds in abandoned rooms are integral to the success of the mother-daughter ghost story, rather than being a mere aesthetic sandbox for Hogg to indulge in. The play on gothic tales of haunting and parentage comes through forcefully in everything from Swinton's evocative two-headed performance, which suggests we eventually live to become our parents and come to know them only in this belated inheritance and doubling of physical traits, mannerisms, and stories, to Ed Rutherford's gorgeous 35mm photography of suffocating fog and eerie spiral staircases. Hogg's typical attentiveness to place and sound are also beautifully channelled through this soft-horror register, the eerie yet mundane soundscape of creaks and hydraulic hums and slippers padding on cold floors immediately grounding us in the film's unheimlich thematic territory, its exploration of learning your parents' secrets and channelling them into yourself in a place at once familiar and strange. Programme: Special Presentations