The Daughter

The Daughter

Every artist – musician, director, performer, sculptor – is serious about their work.

How their respective art might be received by the public is largely out of their hands, but the intent behind each creation arrives after sincere and sometimes exhaustive effort. As such, it is no surprise that Simon Stone is passionate about his debut feature film, The Daughter, based on Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. What is somewhat surprising – and inspiring – is the depth of his passion for this story, in which no character (or audience) escapes unscathed.

“I suppose I’m hoping for the audience to walk away with the movie in their heads, lodged in their chest and their imagination, to pore over it in the subsequent days, and hoping that there’s a reflection of those who have gone through traumatic events or crises, of the mess and confusion and regret that they experience when those things happen. And also the very melancholy way you remember the delightful moments that led up to the tragic one. For those who haven’t experienced something like that, to maybe [gain] an insight into that experience,” says Stone.

The Daughter certainly has its share of delightful and despairing moments. It is by any reckoning a powerful film, aided by some grand performances from Paul Schneider, Ewen Leslie, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, and notably Odessa Young in the titular role. It also has a particularly arresting finale, one that is likely to fulfil Stone’s wish for audiences to retain the film long after leaving the cinema. Pier Paolo Pasolini once spoke of scarring his audience, and although the story of The Daughter is at times troubling, Stone’s vision is not quite so severe.

“I wouldn’t say that of myself necessarily, because a scar is something you can’t get rid of and is often something you’re ashamed of, although it can be sexy,” he laughs. “But it involves a wound of some kind. I don’t want to wound or hurt my audience. I am interested in catharsis, I’m interested in moments of release. And sometimes that involves being led down a path of the consultation of the unpleasant realities in life. And the ultimate aim is a celebration of life, and the opportunity to recognise those unpleasant moments in life as they actually are, with honesty. I see a lot of films about awful events where there’s a kind of almost pornographic cynicism in the way that they’re made, where the filmmaker is clearly enjoying the idea that things are going terribly. I don’t enjoy it. It’s not pleasant for me to tell a story like this, but it’s necessary, and you are full of regret while you’re shooting because it isn’t nice.”

Though to be clear, the unpleasant aspects of The Daughter total a small percentage of the story. There are moments of great revelry and familiar humour – indeed, it is one of Stone’s strengths in adapting the script that we can quite easily insert ourselves into the lives of these companionable characters. This also forms part of the film’s premise, however – that while all may seem idyllic on the surface, there are hard personal truths always threatening to erupt. Perhaps the most conflicted and complex character – whose actions may, at first, appear quite ignoble – is Schneider’s Christian.

“I think he’s a wounded character, and a wounded animal lashes out pre-emptively to save themselves,” says Stone. “They can be incredibly dangerous because they feel so scared. I thank God that I’ve never been in the position where I’ve had the childhood of someone like Christian. I think all of us who have been saved that kind of trauma should appreciate we’re not him, and I think that there’s a fundamental level of respect that you have to have for someone who went through the events he did, who is still damaging his own life because he feels so damaged. That’s the paradox of his existence. He felt that the world gave up on him a long time ago, and he keeps being convinced that the world will be nice to him again, and he keeps destroying that hope through some kind of sense of inevitability that the world will keep screwing him over.”

It is perhaps the fact that we do find ourselves so enamoured by this tremendous cast (and eased into the world so vividly thanks to cinematographer Andrew Commis) that the unravelling of these lives moves us so deeply; that the selfish blend of lie and truth we are all capable of can have such repercussions.

“[Christian] is a weak, vulnerable person who needs someone to turn around and say, ‘If you want to be happy, you can be happy,’” says Stone. “I’m sure every single reader of this article has a friend who has had a deeply troubled childhood. The problem is, he’s dealing with a whole heap of other people who aren’t aware of how messed up he is, and they’re also not aware of how messed up they themselves are. How deeply insensitive they all are to the fact they’re living a lie. Nobody gets let off the hook. They’re all lovable, amazing human beings, but they’re all selfish. But we all are. So I wouldn’t turn to the person who has the most reasons for being the way he is and judge him worse than others.”

The Daughter (dir. Simon Stone) is in cinemas Thursday March 17.

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Elena Tonra has always played it her way. ‘’I never went to university,’’ Tonra says. ‘’I never even considered it. I knew from the start that music was my thing.

It was almost like I didn’t want to do anything else, or even entertain anything else. I finished school, and went to music college, and then I ended up doing music, all the time.”

The songwriter and leader of English band Daughter is the first to admit surprise at having become a frontwoman. “Both of my parents are very shy people, to the point where they might even be described as antisocial,’’ Tonra says. ‘’I definitely got the shy gene. I mean, I’m always blabbering, but that probably helps with writing. Maybe.”

Daughter began as Tonra’s solo project when she was studying at London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in 2010. The same year Tonra self-released an EP of demos, before forming a band later in 2010 with fellow students Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella. With significant buzz surrounding the band, the folk-influenced trio self-released the His Young Heart EP in 2011, which was followed in October of that year by The Wild Youth EP on Communion Records (Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard).

Of course, the important thing is whether Tonra’s parents like her stuff. “They do listen my music,’’ Tonra says. ‘’I think they like it, well, they seem very interested in it. Mum is actually a big Twitter fiend, and she’s not on Twitter herself, but she goes on ours and keeps an eye on what’s going on. Sometimes she updates me about stuff that I didn’t even know was going on.”

The tweeting and international attention for the band has come from this year’s debut album, If You Leave. It’s their first release since signing to prestigious British imprint 4AD (The National, Grimes, Deerhunter), and has been acclaimed by auspicious voices like the BBC, Drowned In Sound and The Fly.

The benefit of all that international attention is that the band has been on road touring all year. Multiple North American tours mean Tonra now craves home like never before. “We’ve just had a week back in London which is kind of nice,’’ she says. ‘’It’s a little bit shit weather-wise in London at the moment, and I like it a bit grey and not very pleasant. It means you don’t want to go outside, so you end curling up in the house and writing stuff that’s good.’’

‘’It’s hard to feel free because we’re in the middle of such a crazy year of touring,” Tonra continues. ‘’We’ve been all over the place for the last couple of months, which has been really great and really exciting. At the same time it leaves me feeling that as soon as I’m in one place too long I’m kind of itching to get away again. But then when I move on I want to be at home again. The one thing that consistently excites me is coming home and catching up with friends. There are so many people I haven’t seen since probably Christmas, or even before then. It’s really quite nice to come back home and really interact with people.”

The band performs in Australia for the first time this July, and they’re well aware of the welcome that awaits them. “We’ve had quite a lot of requests to come to Australia in the past,’’ Tonra says, ‘’but it’s never been able to happen. It’s very exciting for us to be coming down now, even if it is winter there. I think the fact that our sideshows for Splendour have been doing really well is something that really encourages the three of us.’’

Daughter will be playing alongside Irish group Little Green Cars, who are firm friends of the English trio. “I love them, all of them,’’ Tonra says. ‘’We all met in New York, because we’re on Glasshouse Records together in America. They’re just the coolest guys, and of course their music is amazing. It’s such a thrill to be able to hang out with them in New York, Dublin and now Australia. They took us out in Dublin when we were there, and I think we may have behave ourselves a bit more in Australia.’’

The Irish connection is significant for Tonra, although she isn’t sure if it has any explicit influence on her craft. ‘’I’m half Irish, because my father is from County Mayo in the west of Ireland. My grandmother and grandfather moved to London with my dad when he was younger, and I’ve always had a really good relationship with both of them. Every weekend we’d go over to their house and my grandfather used to sing old traditional Irish songs at home. There is a part of me that was immersed in that, growing up around the really traditional elements of Irish culture.

‘’I don’t think I would ever necessarily write like that, but I think there is something in me of that, even if it’s just with the way that I rhyme things. I do feel that must have had some impact on either the way I write or the way I sing. In terms of the Irish influence, I don’t think I’ve spent enough time there, because I think there’s the possibility it could be a huge inspiration for me.”


Daughter play The Metro on Wednesday July 24 before a spot at Splendour in The Grass July 26.

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