From the opening shot, the very first hammer to chord, the burden of the legacy of an artist lays over the drama Maya Dardel.
Be it flailing toward greatness or at their own hand, if the protagonist, supporting cast, writer, director, and even its crew will be remembered for the work they’ve done before departing our world, they will be remembered fondly and with respect.
Maya Dardel, played masterfully by Lena Olin, is an aging heirless writer who, believing her talent to be fading, proposes a game-like process for young male writers to essentially come and woo their way into her estate. Judging their work, their knowledge, and in part their skills at cunnilingus, Dardel whittles down the entrants to two– the deft, coy, and curious Ansel (Nathan Keyes) and the crass, obtuse, and admittedly untalented Paul (Alexander Koch). They play off each other as opposites and in fact may as well be the angel and devil on Maya’s shoulders. She essentially casts and directs her internal struggle to play out in front of her. The love and loss. The triumph and the struggle. Or as she says it herself, “We can live in a state of denial, or an unhealthy state of mortality.”
In fact, the entirety of the cast could all be varied parts of the same woman, struggling against each other, leaving us to believe she hands over the keys of the estate to the part of her she wishes to continue on in her name. Though, in her words again, “Death beautifies even the ugliest vanity.”
From the opening shot, the very first hammer to chord, the burden of the legacy of an artist lays over this film.
The intrinsic loneliness of being a person whose imagination can create any and every situation one could only dream of being in is on broad display throughout Maya Dardel. This is expressed both visually, through gentle pacing and stunning establishing shots of Dardel’s property and emotionally, through the softly read works of Maya and the beautiful piano pieces by the writer, director, and composer Zachary Cotler.
Maya betrays that blatant loneliness through an abuse of power over these young artists, the young men who begin this power struggle through the obsession of her work and a need for what she can give them, be it inspiration, money or land. However, only one ends up realizing his power is greater because Dardel will only be remembered posthumously through the care of the man she chooses. The man appears visually and emotionally larger on screen until the moment he weakens himself to her to the point of shame. This culminates in a very powerful scene, after which Maya and Ansel are walking together, and for the first time her vociferous monologuing shows as a panicked weakness toward, “One of the few men who liked her but managed not to fall into her entourage of slaves.”
At the end, though, aren’t we all just wondering if the work we did left a mark?
Maya Dardel is unrated. 104 minutes. Opening this Friday at the Laemmle Monica Film Center.