Maya (2018) by Mia Hansen-Løve
Review by Zach Dennis
Reversing back into more lyrical, poetic cinema following Climax, the latest feature by a director I’ve come to admire a lot, Mia Hansen-Løve, grew over time into a disappointment as it seems Maya is more of an attempt to evoke the march of time so indicative of her other features, but with less success.
The film follows Gabriel (Roman Kolinka), a French war journalist who is returning home after being captured and held in Syria during an assignment. He and his colleague are returned while another is being still held prisoner, and the ordeal leads Gabriel to escape from life and work for a bit by visiting his godfather in India, where he owns a hotel.
Once there, Gabriel meets the titular Maya (Aarshi Banerjee), the floating young daughter of his godfather, Monty (Pathy Aiyar), who seems to command the ethereal in-between space that we’ve seen many times before with Hansen-Løve. Maya is content with this liminal lifestyle, forgoing high school for work closer to home and spending a spell in London before again returning back. Maya has no rush and this laissez-faire approach attracts Gabriel — someone clearly trying to slow down.
There’s turbulent waters that Hansen-Løve must navigate as the story of a white person running away to India to “find themselves” is too pache to be cute anymore. I would say she maneuvers this rather well, less predicated his journey on an escape into the “unknown exotic India” and more of a return to a place he’s familiar with, masking his character with a history and past in the country (his mother lives there full-time now) rather than some spiritual safari.
But in the end, the appeal of Hansen-Løve’s work is her ability to capture the rhythm of time and its eroding force on the present moment, either bringing prosperity or dread. This isn’t the case for Maya, or better yet, it isn’t executed as well in Maya as the culmination of their eventual romantic connection and quick degradation of the fling never packed the emotional resonance it wanted when Gabriel ended up returning to the hotel after many months since he and Maya shared a night together, and the two run into each other — he still fostering the same attitude as before and her carrying a much more astute and mature posture than her supposed wide-eyed infatuation from earlier
The change doesn’t feel earned and it feels a little like a disservice to Maya as a character. Banerjee imbues her with curiosity and confidence that makes falling into this very generic romantic foible frustrating.
In her previous two features — Eden and Things to Come — the passing of time forced change and decisions by her main characters and it seemed absent here. Gabriel got his getaway that he wanted and Maya seems very much in the same place. It doesn’t have the hopeful romanticism of a Brief Encounter or Before Sunrise, and while it does share similarities to Cold War, which I talked about earlier, both of these seem to leave the building of the characters as one behind for other ambitions.
This was a bummer as Hansen-Løve continues to be one of my anticipated directors, but this trend would continue as another recent favorite of mine left me cold with his latest output as well.