TIFF 2018: Mia Hansen-Løve's 'Maya' is Low-Key Charming Romance
by Alex Billington
September 23, 2018
India is a place unlike any other. Many films have taken us there before, and many films have shown us how venturing into India can change someone's life. Maya is yet another new film that takes us to India, telling another story about a life being changed. Maya is the latest feature from French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve, and it's a more low-key, lighter film than her past work. It still has some weight to it, and it still has her typical effortless freshness and intimacy, but it lacks more substance beyond the basic romance story we witness first-hand. It's good, just not great, which actually falls in line with the film itself. The film feels a lot like a moment of respite, an escape from the chaos and intensity and brutality of our dangerous modern society, to a breezy, slow-paced, meditative trip to Goa and other cities, reigniting the eternal flame of love.
Maya introduces us to Gabriel, played by Roman Kolinka, a 30-something French war journalist who has just been released safely, thanks to the French government, after being held as a hostage in Syria. As warm and welcoming as everyone is at home in France, he decides to take a trip by himself over to India, to work on a small family home for a few months. In Goa he meets a young woman named Maya, played by Aarshi Banerjee, the teenage daughter of a hotel owner friend. Most of his time is just spent exploring or relaxing or drinking coffee with Maya, giving himself a much-needed break from everything else more intense on the other side of the world. It's another soul searching in India story, but there is a certain soulful vibe to Mia Hansen-Løve's films that elevates this from being just another one of these kind of stories we've seen before.
This soulfulness also plays into the romance. It's a very sweet love story, a slow burn love that takes time to get going and most of it feels queasy because of the age gap. But it never makes age into a key topic, either good or bad, thankfully. It could be seen as another older man gets rejuvenated thanks to a young woman story, but it's not that simple. And it could also be seen as an empowering story of a smart, confident young woman wooing a worn-down older man. I think they both gain something from their companionship. Either way, Hansen-Løve lets that love smolder and stew, never letting it become a raging fire. Which is fine, and keeps the film light, warm, and brisk. Because fire destroys, and it's dangerous. But this kind of warm love is revitalizing and inspiring. There's something very good and pure and sweet about seeing these two connect.
I have been a big fan of Mia Hansen-Løve and her films for many years (I also interviewed her in 2016). I adore her work, and I think there's always something refreshing and invigorating about her films. Maya is an interesting side-step for her, something that still exemplifies her storytelling talent and uniqueness, but is more of temporary escape and perhaps a way to bring back some goodness into the world as we continue grasping for hope. It reminds us how much good it does to simply take a break and observe the world. The film definitely made me want to go back to India and do some soul searching, or at least just some relaxing. But that's just my experience with the film. It really does make a huge difference in our lives to connect with someone deep down, wherever they may come from, or whoever they may be. It makes the world go ’round.
Alex's TIFF 2018 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing