Christopher Machell Toronto

Toronto 2018: Maya review

★★★☆☆

When French war reporter Gabriel (Roman Kolinka) is released from being held hostage by ISIS, he insists that he’s fine, refusing help from his hospital-appointed counsellor. But when his relationship with his girlfriend breaks down, it’s clear that Gabriel needs time to reflect on his ordeal.

Gabriel heads to Goa, where he spent some of his childhood, to regroup. It’s here that he meets the titular Maya (Arshi Banarjee), his Godfather’s adult daughter. Gabriel keeps one foot in his own world through Skyping with his friend and colleague played by Alex, but spends most of his days with Maya.

Maya is beautiful, quietly self-assured and clearly interested in Gabriel but he remains aloof, keeping an emotional and physical distance. We’re unsure whether it’s because of their age difference, his recent break up, his ordeal, or a mixture of all three. Director Mia Hansen-Løve smartly keeps Gabriel’s cards close to his chest, letting us live through his emotions and motivations rather than simply declaring them.

There are few outright surprises in Maya, and though things proceed roughly as we might expect there is a deeper sort of emotional revelation that comes from letting the story proceed on its own terms. It’s this approach that gives Hansen-Løve the opportunity to let the meandering plot find its own way.

As appealing as Maya herself is, there’s a lack of depth to both her characterisation and Banerjee’s stilted performance. Indeed, she is often little more than a mere foil for Gabriel to work through his issues, though there is some awareness of this in Maya’s hurt reaction when she learns that Gabriel plans to return to France without her. Moreover, there’s more than a little neo-orientalism to the film’s treatment of Maya and to the use of Goa as a site of spiritual renewal for white dudes searching for meaning among the hustle bustle of their busy Western lives.

Nevertheless, there’s a therapeutic quality to Maya’s gentle, winding river of a story, moving at its own pace. And there’s value to be found in realising both that Gabriel as hardly as angelic as his namesake, nor is Maya as passive and innocent as she appears. In their own ways they demonstrate a resilience and refusal to let their vulnerabilities impede on their autonomy. Indeed, it’s Maya who pursues Gabriel, subtly utilising an erotic power that is belied by her quiet reservation.

The Toronto International Film Festival 2018 takes place from 6-16 September.

Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell