The British writer-director Joanna Hogg is little known in America. Neither her feature debut “Unrelated” (2007) nor her follow-up “Archipelago” (2010) were released here. However, the news, reported by Screen Daily, that the US sales company Visit Films has picked up the rights to her third movie, “Exhibition,” augurs well for Hogg’s minimalist social-realist cinema finding an American audience.
Whereas “Unrelated” and “Archipelago” depicted the emotional strains and ensuing fallout of middle-class families on holiday, in Italy and the Isles of Scilly respectively, “Exhibition” unfolds on a no-less fraught domestic front. It depicts the marital and creative crisis incurred by an artist couple when they decide to sell the London property they have lived in for twenty years – a treasured repository of memories and creative endeavors.
The film will premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, which began yesterday. In the clip I’ve seen, D (played by Viv Albertine, former guitarist with the punk group the Slits) and her husband H (conceptual artist Liam Gillick) meet with a real-estate broker (Hogg regular Tom Hiddleston) and his colleague. Hiddleston’s softly-spoken character indicates to the couple he'll be sensitive to their feelings when he shows their house to potential buyers.
The conversation exposes D’s vulnerability, while H’s silence and moroseness reveals he is not impressed by the broker’s rote reassurances and is appalled at the thought of strangers trespassing in his beloved home.
Yet D, who works in performance, may be liberated by the experience. Explaining the film’s title to Screen in July, Hogg said, “The word ‘Exhibition’ struck me after we’d finished the final cut. There’s a very obvious level that it works on for the film, but I was also interested in coming from the word ‘inhibition.’
“D, the character I’m telling the story about, is inhibited,” Hogg added. “The film can be read as being about her coming out of herself and finding a more exhibitionist side of herself.”
The movie apparently suggests a work of art. Visit Films’ David Kampe said, “This film is like watching a very careful and studied painted portrait come to life. Joanna has crafted a beautiful film that captures the intricacies of a decades-old relationship and all the exhilarating and mundane moments that come with the weight of such a lengthy relationship. She holds nothing back.”
Hogg’s intimate observations of escalating tensions between family members are at times reminiscent of those in Mike Leigh’s films. More concerned with working-class survival, though, Leigh has only occasionally dropped in on the middle-class world that has so far preoccupied Hogg. Her films also draw more on the consequences of things not said and feelings not expressed, where Leigh’s often embrace melodrama and the absurdity conflicts can engender. Like Leigh, though, Hogg excels at rubbing sore spots and then striving to heal them her own way. Read my review of "Archipelago" here.