Exhibition – Home is where the he(art) is in Joanna Hogg’s latest film

Joanna Hogg is a director who likes to put people’s relationships under the microscope. Family, friend, (potential) lover, her previous two films, Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2010), examine all these differing relationships in harsh, truthful detail, gradually revealing unseen tensions between her characters. In Exhibition (2013) Hogg now moves away from observing big family units and instead turns her sharp eye onto a couple who are trying to sell their extravagant designer home. He (Liam Gillick) is an architect constantly working on projects on his computer. She (Viv Albertine) is an artist constantly working on new performance pieces. And both seem as directionless, bored and dissatisfied as the other.

Exhibition (2013) – D (Viv Albertine) trying out one of her performance pieces

Hogg’s films, while elegant and poetic, may test the patience of some viewers. Her stories are slow-moving portraits of detailed characters, Hogg stepping back to let them breathe and the (minimal) action unfold. Her camera is equally distant, watching scenes unfold as if we are looking in on private worlds, making it seem as if we are witnessing a painting come to life. And Exhibition is no different. The beauty of the outside world seen in both Unrelated and Archipelago might now have swapped to show the beauty of the interior world (the house), yet Hogg’s lens remains forever in the distance as we watch the couple’s happy home life start to unravel, the remote camera reflecting their own increasingly chilly relationship. Her thoughtful approach to filmmaking again creates another beautiful mood piece that lets you think and absorb the atmosphere of Exhibition without bombarding you with information. The seemingly slight plot (couple tries to sell house) means that more of what is important can emerge – the fact that H and D (we never learn their names) only seem to be able to communicate their true feelings via intercom, D’s obsession with creating new provocative performance pieces or masturbating, or both, and the emerging cracks in their relationship that were almost certainly there all along.

Viv Albertine (D) and Liam Gillick (H) in Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition

The naturalistic performances from first-time actors Viv Albertine (of The Slits fame) and Liam Gillick (a real-life conceptual artist) make for a captivating and realistic watch, drawing you into their world as you practically occupy the house alongside them for the duration (they actually lived in the house together during filming, which might explain how their relationship is indeed so convincing). Albertine is especially fascinating to watch as D, a character who is constantly performing whether she’s working on her new art ideas or lounging catlike about the house on windowsills, curled around walls or hidden under tables, such is the profound connection she feels to their soon-to-be-sold home. The dialogue, although sparse (it is almost like a silent film at times), also makes this a more realistic portrayal and heightens the tense atmosphere between the couple as we wait eagerly to see what will be said between them and who will dare to break the silence first.

Another character exists alongside these two main ones though: the house itself. Hogg makes the house a contained world, the couple’s own isolated island. Yet through the use of excellent sound design Hogg shows the surrounding outside world creeping in. Car alarms pierce the night air, outside voices seep in and dogs bark loudly, the exterior gradually encroaching on their peace as it gets closer to the time they will inevitably sell the house. Another intrusion on their isolated world is in the form of two estate agents (played by Harry Kershaw and Tom Hiddleston, in a great cameo that harks back to Hiddleston’s early performances as a lead actor in Hogg’s previous two films) who pick apart their home with false words and promises, eager for a sale while the couple only want to see it go to a good and wary owner. The estate agent’s presence is also a reminder that their private island is becoming more and more distant as the days go by…

The estate agents (Harry Kershaw and Tom Hiddleston) talk to the couple about the house

Although her previous two features were both riveting, deep and abound with issues and ideas, Exhibition is Joanna Hogg’s most fascinating and rewarding film to watch yet. It is also her strangest, the writer-director choosing for the first time to use fantasy or dream sequences (we’re never sure which they are) in some moments, sequences that although confusing only further add to the beauty and almost ethereal state of Exhibition at times. As with her other films, that deceptively minimal plot is in fact a detailed and absorbing study of a couple’s relationship, among other thought-provoking observations (the traditional family unit, wealth and class – all usual staples of a Joanna Hogg film). Her understated writing and direction allows these ideas to shine through, as well as Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick’s brilliant, natural performances. And as usual the elegant simplicity of her cinematography is a wonder to behold. An incredible film that clearly cements Hogg as a superb British filmmaking talent.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on September 4, 2014.

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