Tilda Swinton is back on the Lido, this time with director Joanna Hogg’s Venice competition title The Eternal Daughter.
The ghost story charts the tale of a middle-aged daughter and her elderly mother (both played by Swinton) who must confront long-buried secrets when they return to their former family home, a once-grand manor that has become a nearly vacant hotel.
Shot in secret in Wales during lockdown, the project re-teams long-time friends Swinton and Hogg after the recent Souvenir films.
Swinton, sporting a shock of hair dyed a bright yellow — “It’s my honor to wear half of the Ukrainian flag,” she commented — said playing dual roles wasn’t the plan from the start. Rather, it was borne out of conversations that followed The Souvenir movies in which she played mother to her own real-life daughter. The mother and daughter characters in Eternal Daughter are likewise named Rosalind and Julie.
Said Swinton, “During The Souvenir, I noticed how different the relationship is of mothers of my age and daughters of my age. We became very interested in that and talked about Rosalind older and Julie older. We always though I would play Julie, and talked about an older performer playing the mother — somehow this very strange impulse took over. Now we see it makes it an entirely different film.”
Speaking of the technical aspects, Hogg said, “The simplicity of what’s presented belies the complexity of how we made the film.” Given her movies are of an improvisatory nature, “how the hell do you do that with a film where my friend is playing two people?” Ultimately, Swinton, as the older Rosalind, and Hogg, off camera as Julie, would have a conversation to set a shape for the scene and then Swinton would perform the part of Julie afterwards.
Swinton noted that she identified with both characters. Of Hogg, she said, “We have spoken for 50 years with each other about our mothers… Making the film was partly an exercise in making friends with projection… acknowledging that just because someone exits the building the conversation can continue. One doesn’t have to grieve the connection and the understanding and the nourishment from that conversation.”
Swinton also compared The Eternal Daughter to a sort of Rubik’s cube. “There’s that immersion in the atmosphere and knowing it’s not going to make sense for a while. We didn’t want it to make sense too early and, as with a Rubik’s cube, the commitment to not fixing too early one side, just working it up and trusting that at the last minute the pattern will show… It’s an extraordinary feat for a filmmaker to have the nerve to throw it over and not bring it in too soon.”
The Eternal Daughter is produced by Element Pictures (The Favourite). As he did on The Souvenir, Martin Scorsese serves as executive producer. A24 has world rights.
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