Maya (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2018): France | Germany

Reviewed by Kassandra Ni. Viewed at the 2019 Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Set in 2012, Maya (2018) is based on the return of a French war journalist named Gabriel. Upon returning back to his home country, Gabriel is seen as being distant to the culture of France and in some instances alienated. It is apparent early on in the film that Gabriel is no longer attached to France, possibly because of the psychological consequences of being a hostage in Syria had on him, and that he needs to be in a change of environment. Gabriel decides to travel to India to visit his mother and to also explore the culture and environment of the south-asian country.

Maya (2018) is a beautifully directed film by Mia Hansen-Love, that showcases the natural beauty and tropics of India. Not only does this film document the reintegration back into society of a young man that was held hostage in Syria, but it also delves into the immorally viewed relationship between a 30 year old man and a young woman, name Maya. Though the specifics of Maya’s age is not specified in the film, the romantic involvement in the film is seen to be controversial in the nature of Gabriel abandoning Maya when needed to. Thus, putting his needs before hers and not fully understanding the emotional ramifications of using this young woman. Being that their relationship was consensual, but not agreed upon in it’s seriousness, is a major component to the narrative of this film.

With a strong cast that is ethnically diverse, the movie is a pleasant visual reminder that not all films have to be completely centered around a caucasian protagonist or a european-centric plot. Many of the most interesting plot points of this film actually were from Maya’s own perspective–a perspective that is not simply seen in many films but rather is silenced quite often. Having this representation is refreshing, Mia Hansen-Love’s choice of having an authentic representation of characters is what adds to the realism of this plot and Gabriel’s scenario (It’s not a fake, disillusioned story of a lost man in a foreign area, à la the racially-disturbing story of Cameron Crowe’s Aloha (2015)) but rather a reflection of something that can actually happen in real life.

Roman Kolinka’s portrayal of Gabriel is well presented. The character itself, doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the film, it’s rather the character’s actions that define him. Do we empathize with Gabriel? Hate him for abandoning Maya? Well that depends on how Kolinka views his character/portrays him, and ultimately how we connect to his actions in these situations. Having this dynamic choice in judgement, as an audience member, is what makes a performance memorable and worth mentioning to others.

With that being said, Kolinka has worked with Mia Hansen-Love in other projects, and is a seasoned actor. His counterpart to the film, Aarshi Banerjee, who portrays Maya in the film is less convincing in her own character’s goal in the film. The character of Maya, similarly to Gabriel’s, does not have much dialogue in the film, however it’s within the actor’s responsibility to demonstrate their purpose through their actions in the film. Some of the scenes in which Maya is having to respond to Gabriel or having to reveal characteristics of her character to him, seem to be awkwardly portrayed or ill-handled; which made her overall performance in the film fall flatly. A observation that I had in many of the scenes where Gabriel and Maya were trekking along together in the abandoned ruins; was that Banerjee doesn’t match her responses to Kolinka’s actions–there is an evident delay in response to action on Banerjee’s part that throws away the relatableness and realness of the scene and her character. In these scenes where it’s just Gabriel and Maya, they could have been miles away because of the lack of response and attention that Banerjee was providing to her character.

My criticalness in the lack of connection that Banjeree has to her character, Maya, is not something that should shy away possible audience members from this film. Watch the film for its plot and visually appealing cinematography, but don’t dig any deeper for a performance of a lifetime from Banjeree.

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