Set against the luscious backdrop of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Maya Dardel centers on its titular character, an aging poet who has decided to end her life and who uses a public radio interview to announce her search for an heir. (The term “search,” however, is a bit of a stretch; she tells her interviewer that interested candidates can contact her via her agent, but she doesn’t much seem to care whether they do or they don’t.)
Maya (Lina Olin) has a few stipulations: her potential heir must be male and must be a wordsmith, either a poet or novelist like her, or some other writer who deems himself worthy. What ensues is a series of uncomfortable conversations and sexual encounters between the older bard and the young men vying for her estate.
Rosanna Arquette plays Maya’s friend and confidant, Leonora, with whom a few nuggets of insights into Maya’s thought process emerge. Maya, we learn, is most definitely of sound mind, and, without giving anything away, demonstrates that she has been rather methodical in her candidate selection.
There is one particularly upsetting scene between she and a suitor that will undoubtedly upset some viewers, as it did me, but filmmakers Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler perhaps felt its inclusion solidified the nature of the character for the audience.
The cast of Maya Dardel is a strong one, with the most commendable performance delivered by Olin herself. Joining her and Arquette are Nathan Keyes (who I learned is from the same hometown as Film Pulse’s Editor in Chief) as Ansel and Alexander Koch as Paul, polar-opposite contenders who elicit different responses from Maya.
Playing another prospect is Jordan Gavaris as the deliciously despicable Kevin in a role that is quite the opposite of his endearing character Felix Dawkins on Orphan Black. In fact, without the British accent, I almost didn’t recognize him.
The film, shot at dusk and in the fog at times, has an almost mystical atmosphere, with the California canvas serving as a character all on its own. There are certainly beautiful moments to go along with this beautiful scenery, but much of the dialogue and situational drama didn’t sit well with me. This isn’t because I struggled with Olin’s strong, smart and edgy protagonist, conceptually, but rather the forcibly awkward scenes — many of which made me simply want to turn my head or plug my ears (certainly my own cross to bear).
There’s no doubt that there is an eager audience, salivating to see this type of film, which is seductively creative and more often than not extremely visually alluring. Sadly I can’t say I recommend this one, as it simply isn’t greater than the sum of its lovely parts.