During the month of September, the Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art put on a showcase of the works of British filmmaker and screenwriter Joanna Hogg.
They played her latest three films, which Hogg directed and wrote, “Unrelated (2008),” “Archipelago (2010)” and “Exhibition (2013).” All three featured quiet and minimal camerawork as well as long uninterrupted shots which gave the films a rather introspective vibe.
“Unrelated,” the first film showcased, features an extensive look at the landscape of Tuscany, Italy. Hogg has a style that seems to flit in and out of the scenes in way that never feels interrupting to the characters or their environment.
It’s interesting that she chose Italy as a place of self-discovery for her main character, Anna (Kathryn Worth), instead of her homeland of England. Anna represents a quintessential member of the middle class, from her mannerisms to her habits. But the setting of Italy, as Hogg has captured it, seems to encompass Anna completely and is especially effective in the climactic confrontation.
Anna’s attempt to fit in with the crowd of teenagers, led by the flirtatious Oakley (Tom Hiddleston) alienates her from her other middle-aged friends, and the detached camera angles and long takes make the audience feel just as separated. It’s almost a film about growing up, but it seems to be more about the reconciliation of departing youth and true adulthood.
“Archipelago” seems almost like a sequel to “Unrelated.” It also deals with being middle aged, but instead of dealing with growing up, it’s more about the consequences of growing up. Hogg again uses her long takes to create a hypnotic world, but this time set in Tresco, which is part of the Isles of Sicily.
Once again, the location is critical. With the family at the center, led by the matriarch, Patricia (Kate Fahy) and her two children, Cynthia (Lydia Leonard), and Edward (Hiddleston again), find all their anxieties bubbling over in a devastating emotional crisis, they are trapped on the island with no figurative way out. It creates a bleak outlook and gives the film a greater tension.
However, while the film could have been dark, it balances the gravity of the situations with comic relief that end up being some of the film’s most thoughtful and memorable moments. In one scene, Cynthia, who is characterized by an overdramatic and volatile nature, breaks her tooth, and Edward calmly looks over before continuing to eat. Although Edward is off to save Africa, but could not even be bothered to help his sister. These subtle moments, along with the awkward pauses and silences, builds a film about dealing with tensions in a family that cannot say what they want or need.
The films are probably not everyone’s cup of tea. They are certainly slow and “Archipelago” creates an antsy feeling with the quiet tension. Although Hogg’s style is inspired by global filmmakers, the films are quintessentially British, from the humor to the attitude of pretending everything is alright.
Even if you aren’t the age of the characters, their problems and quiet musings stay with you even after the films are over. We can’t help but fear that we’ll be like Anna, middle-aged, and still feeling like we’re missing something. Or, we relate the tensions of Patricia, Cynthia and Edward to our own families.
In that sense, these films fall into a category of realistic horror. It’s the horror of realizing how much gravity everyday situations can carry in our lives.