Credit Shipwreck Film LLC/Orion, Samuel Goldwyn Films
The first time we hear Maya Dardel (Lena Olin, and her inimitable rasp), she is declaring her intention to commit suicide. Maya, a renowned poet living in isolation, believes her work has begun to decline. Her only concern now is with finding a worthy heir to manage her estate. Women need not apply — Maya wants to play with power and toy with the young male poets who offer themselves as her potential successors.
Trailer: ‘Maya Dardel’
The passions that drive “Maya Dardel,” written and directed by Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler, are more literary than cinematic. Maya circles her legacy-minded suitors, dropping references to Sylvia Plath and discussing the merits of rhyme schemes and suicide. But for all the linguistic gymnastics, the film is hamstrung by its directors’ lack of visual imagination. Maya challenges her boyish applicants poetically, sexually and finally with offers of intimacy, but the editing all too often settles into a submissive back and forth. During Maya’s tête-à-têtes, we get a glimpse of her home, but every room in her mountainside hideaway has the same sickly hues of blue and green. What little light makes it through appears weak and suffocated, and though the claustrophobia abates when she walks through the California brambles, even nature isn’t immune to the enervating pallor of Ms. Zyzak and Mr. Cotler’s compositions.
The red-blooded vivacity of Ms. Olin’s performance, however, pierces through the muck. She chews feeble lines like meat, spitting out the masticated remains. For all of Maya’s talk of finding the youthful Actaeon to her Artemis, the only time Ms. Olin appears matched is in her brief scenes with her neighbor, Leonora, played by the equally strong Rosanna Arquette.