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Maya Dardel Review

Maya Dardel is a 2017 drama about a famous writer who announces that she intends to end her life and male writers may compete to become executor of her estate.

The prospect of mediocrity is, by any true artist’s account, the demon that chases them in the long shadows of their tormented dreams. To be great, to be adored, to be … remembered … is what drives them and when the fountain runs dry, or at least feels potentially so, it is essentially, death. For Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak‘s latest Maya Dardel, this fate drives the story of a woman facing such an end, a film that is by its design, confounding, yet always curiously intoxicating, like an abstract painting hung upside down.

Maya (Lena Olin) is a renowned writer who, as the story begins, talks from her isolated home to a call in NPR radio broadcast about her work, suddenly making a rather calm announcement: she is going to kill herself, but before she does, she will be interviewing young men to become executor of her vast literary estate. She adds that women need not apply. She is not depressed, in fact barely emotional, simply deciding that her work is done and wishes not to face her 70s and 80s producing insignificant work. She sets about talking with young poets and writers who come to her, they divided by generations that have left her mostly invisible to this crop of aspiring artists, and she takes to long conversations with each, luring them into a sort of sexual snare, narrowing the search to two final candidates.

It’s tempting to call this an art film, the pieces in place to make it seem so. Written by Cotler and Zyzak, Maya Dardel is as much a stage play as it is a movie, with few characters and a limited set. Maya is an acerbic personality, more than twenty years beyond her most acclaimed work, practically a hermit in the antiquated home she treats like a museum. She is unwed, childless and disgusted by much outside her walls. So it is that when these young men arrive, she is like a hungry spider with fresh prey hooked in her web. She seems far less interested in their writing than how they approach their own lives, and her, both artistically and physically. She is direct and accepts only candid commentary before she eventually lures each between her legs, demanding they give her oral sex. This is, in it’s own way, graphic, with these young men buried between her thighs, she taken to the acts with nothing close to pleasure, but with a kind of assessor attitude. There’s nothing sexual about it. Cynical is the only taste she savors.

Despite these aggressively raw moments, the movie is predominantly talky, with Olin’s raspy, aged voice leading the charge, always calm, purposeful and critical. Olin is a marvel, a powerful presence that is so weighty it feels almost like being Maya is a burden, she so committed to the decaying character, it’s harrowing. Maya is faced with choosing between two entirely opposing personalities, Paul (Alexander Koch), an overly-confident, smarmy writer and the much more docile, introverted Ansel (Nathan Keyes). She sees potential in both to keep her name intact beyond her death, and spends most of the movie in the company of one or the other. When not, she is with her eccentric neighbor Leonora (Rosanna Arquette is an amusing, stripped down performance), who lives off the grid, the two quietly bantering over topics that have been strung along for decades.

Maya Dardel is a fascinating experience, Cotler and Zyzak avoiding much of the conventions we might expect going in. It’s meditative and often off-balance, with a haunting, interspersed piano score that gives the film further teeter. Olin is entirely the reason to watch, in a monumental turn, though ultimately the film is unable to be quite as strong as her performance. Nonetheless, this is a weird and wonderful story that can be highly affecting for those who let it.

Maya Dardel Review

Movie description: Maya Dardel is a 2017 drama about a famous writer who announces that she intends to end her life and male writers may compete to become executor of her estate.

Director(s): Zachary Cotler, Magdalena Zyzak

Actor(s): Lena Olin, Rosanna Arquette, Nathan Keyes

Genre: Drama

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