Mia Hansen-Løve’s ‘Maya’ Wanders, but Remains Beautiful: TIFF Review

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Mia Hansen-Løve is one of the most fascinating of working filmmakers, that is something I think bears repeating. But in Maya’s own simplicity, what I love about watching her films is the way in which she understands how human beings interact with their own environments. In her latest film, Maya, we have a film about the survivor of a trauma trying to come to terms with what he’s already been made to endure, but in the slightness of Maya, I’m still finding myself wandering in the same sense that I know her lead character is. So much of this film also happens to feel so awkward just listening to it speak the way in which it does, because of the extensive English dialogue here compared to Mia Hansen-Løve’s past films, but there’s a feeling of self-consciousness that I can sense in her work that only draws me closer. And it also shows the French filmmaker’s own tenderness for her subjects, even if this may not be one of her best films. Though I think it also makes a great showcase for what I’ve always admired about her work, and that’s good enough for me.

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French war reporter Gabriel has already become the subject of the public eye after having escaped an ISIS kidnapping after having been held hostage for four months. This celebrity status that has followed Gabriel only leaves him feeling great discomfort because of the guilt that has ingrained its way into his head after a photographer had been left behind, and he seeks an escape from that thrust into the spotlight by heading over to his childhood home. He meets up with his godfather, who introduces him to Maya, a young girl who also takes a romantic interest in him. As the relationship between Gabriel and Maya builds over time, Gabriel also finds himself in a tight spot with his own celebrity status getting in the way of his want to return back to a normal life, especially when it was also seems to find its ways to become a regular occurrence. There’s a specific thoughtfulness that I’ve admired about the work of Mia Hansen-Løve that many other filmmakers don’t quite achieve in stories that unravel so smoothly like this – and what comes forth from here on seems soft-spoken but evokes a certain thoughtfulness that allows her work to remain so beautiful.

Watching Maya already reminds me of what it feels like to be displaced even in your own world by means of extraordinary circumstances. Gabriel is only now trying to adjust to what his life had only brought in store for him after he finds himself lost in a daze as he tries to find a place for his own soul to find a sense of peace – perhaps a resonance that only finds itself creating a more beautiful product in the end. Roman Kolinka’s performance is one whose beauty arises from its own subtlety, but in the more quiet moments of the film you find yourself lost in that same sense that he is. You’re thinking back to those moments something happens in your life that leads your future a whole other way that you can’t quite control, but there’s still something to be found that makes you happy. Of course, Hansen-Løve’s love for the exotic scenery is ever present in here, but there’s another search that allows every moment in which Gabriel wanders throughout India that makes for something incredibly beautiful – because of the happiness that prevails when he’s in Maya’s presence.

Though all throughout, I admit I’m wondering why exactly the film is named for Maya. While it’s easy enough for me to say that Aarshi Banerjee’s performance is beautiful, I do wish that a lot more had been done for her character. She only ever seems passive, not in the sense that she’s a manic pixie dream girl to Gabriel – but rarely ever interactive with her own backgrounds. But you can feel a sense of being lost in that same way that Gabriel is right from Maya herself, because of how Mia Hansen-Løve empathizes with the manner in which she feels isolated even from her own people. But I feel like there’s so much focus on Gabriel’s perspective because of the circumstances that have led his life to the very point to which it came towards, often to the point it obscures any feeling for the growth of Maya herself. I sit there wondering where she’ll be set to grow because she seemed more interesting the observer than Gabriel – and more often than not, she’s a background character.

I don’t quite think a lot of this works as well as it does, but there’s a lot to be admired about the simplicity that Mia Hansen-Løve is showing us in Maya. Maybe it doesn’t quite have that same potency that her best films have created, but I admire a lot of this here. It’s a nice venture that starts off in a very soft-spoken manner, but delves into becoming something all the more beautiful on the inside. It may be meandering, although this meandering is the very feeling that its lead character finds himself trapped within. That’s one among a few things that allows Maya to stand out in the way in which it does from her own work at least. I’m only wondering how well would her style of writing translate itself into the English language, because so much of this happens to be in English too. It sounds a bit rough on the edges, but I can only expect as much from a transition that never had enough time to build itself as well as it should just yet. But it put me in a mood to travel.


Watch the trailer right here.

Images via TIFF.


Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Screenplay by Mia Hansen-Løve
Produced by Philippe Martin, David Thion
Starring Roman Kolinka, Aarshi Banerjee, Suzan Anbeh, Judith Chemla, Alex Descas, Johanna ter Steege
Release Date: September 10, 2018
Running Time: 110 minutes

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