One of the most interesting and exciting British directors, Joanna Hogg has paved the way for fresh new talent and flies the flag for the hugely underrepresented women in film. Ant Adeane takes a look at her latest film, Exhibition.
Joanna Hogg’s third feature film cements her status as one of the most singular directors currently working in British cinema. ‘Exhibition’ feels like the next step in Hogg’s development as a filmmaker without departing too far from the techniques that made her first two efforts so absorbing. 2008’s ‘Unrelated’ and 2010’s ‘Archipelago’, set in Tuscany and the Isles of Scilly respectively, were acutely well-observed portrayals of the claustrophobia of familial relationships. Slow-paced and slyly funny, both films did a good line in excruciatingly awkward mealtime conversations with every second of desperate silence captured in unflinching detail. Family holidays never looked so bleak. ‘Exhibition’, on the other hand, moves away from the ‘upper middle class family abroad’ theme and instead takes as its protagonists an artistic couple at their house in London. The fixed camera angles and long takes that characterise Hogg’s distinctive filmmaking style still predominate but ‘Exhibition’ is an altogether more surreal and fragmentary affair than its predecessors.
The film follows D (Viv Albertine) and H (Liam Gillick) as they live and work in their spectacular modernist home in West London. Hogg eschews linear narrative in favour of a series of loosely related vignettes that slowly reveal the cracks and strains in their relationship. Despite living in the same house, contact between D and H is rare. They speak to each other via intercom, cannot meet each other’s needs in bed, and prefer to retreat to the private sanctuaries of their respective workspaces than speak frankly with each other. In one memorable scene D speaks into a voice recorder about the intimate details of her dreams while H, pretending to be asleep, watches. It is one of the few times that H gains access to the inner life of his partner yet it has been gained surreptitiously and without her consent. We are presented throughout with a very 21st century relationship: introspective, performative, and largely devoid of authentic communication.
The more surreal passages of ‘Exhibition’ are where the film is at its most fascinating. Hogg has recently said that she feels like with each film she is ‘getting a bit further into dreamlike domains’ and many of the best moments in ‘Exhibition’ occur when the viewer is left uncertain about what sort of ‘domain’ the characters are operating in. The erotic fantasises D plays out in her study, for example, could be an extension of her artistic experimentation, an act for H who occasionally watches her from the street, or the lonely masturbatory habits of a sexually unsatisfied woman. The lines between art and life, performance and reality, start to blur as the roles played by D and H become increasingly difficult to discern. The large glass walls that dominate almost every room in the house begin to enact this indeterminacy: the viewer is often unsure as to whether the camera is on the inside looking out or on the outside looking in. Hogg layers the glare of street lights over D and H’s own ghostly reflections in the windows until their physical reality is nothing more than a ghostly shimmer against the glass. The house seems to subsume them and it is left for us to decide whether their forthcoming departure is a fresh start or the beginning of the end.
But this is just one interpretation. The film’s joy is that it’s as much about identity and age as it is about the reality of loneliness, the nature of art, the pains of childlessness, and anything else the viewer cares to get out of it. It is a wonderfully open-ended film that asks more questions than it answers and confirms Hogg as one of the most exciting filmmakers in European film.