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The Daughter (La Hija)

Pregnant teenager runs away from juvenile delinquent institution with the helping hand of two wannabe parents - slow burn tale of failed motherhood premieres at the San Sebastian Film Festival


Irene (Irene Verguiz) is just 14 years of age, and she’s expecting a child. She is convinced it’s a girl (hence the film title). The father Osman is in jail (Sofian El Benaissati), presumably on underage sex charges. One day Irene escapes the institution with assistance of one of the social workers, a 40-something-year old called Javier (Javier Gutierrez). She goes into hiding in his beautiful and completely isolated country house, somewhere in the mountainous interior of Spain. Two ferocious German shepherds guard the house.

Javier and his wife Adele (Patricia López Arnaiz) have devised a cunning plan. They will harbour Irene until she gives birth and then keep the child. They have convinced the girl that social services would take her child away, and that they are doing her a favour by keeping her away from the institution. At first, Irene abides. Then she begins to bond with her unborn child and to question her own incarceration. Plus she wants to see Osman, who is eventually released from jail.

The establishing shots reveal that there is a precipice nearby. The landscape is symbolic of the three protagonists inside the house: just take one step in the wrong direction and you will fall into the abysm.

Adela and Javier have been trying to conceive a child for 20 years without success. It’s never clear, however, why they opt for such a bizarre child-snatching plan instead of a far more civilised adoption route. Whatever their reasons, they are determined to forge ahead with their bizarre plans whatever the cost. Adela is hellbent on becoming the mother of the baby in Irene’s womb. Her wide-eyed gaze suggests a borderline psychotic behaviour. The middle-aged couple will indeed resort to extreme measures in order the achieve their goal. What started out as a teenager fugitive drama turns into the fierce competition tale between the two mothers, with a predictable grand duel (when the film climaxes).

This blend of failed motherhood drama and psychological thriller is mostly satisfactory, however hardly palpable and barely remarkable. The last 10 minutes are entirely redundant, allowing the story to descend into absurdity, including some eyebrow-raising canine behaviour. Overall, this 122-minute film overstays its welcome. It could do with some heavy paring, down to no more than 90 minutes. This movie will reach Spanish cinemas in November, but I doubt it will see a theatrical release in the UK. On the other hand, it would make some good late-night television entertainment.

The Daughter is showing in Competition at the 69th San Sebastian International Film Festival. Unlikely to snatch any prizes. Surreptitiously or not.

By Victor Fraga - 22-09-2021

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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