5 May 2014

Joanna Hogg’s ‘Exhibition’

Three years ago I posted here about Joanna Hogg's second film, Archipelago, and later added something about her first, Unrelated. Now her third film, Exhibition, has been released in the UK. It is a portrait of a marriage with three people in it, or to be more precise, a childless couple and their house. The pair are identified in Kafakaesque style only as D and H, and are played by Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick respectively. Albertine was born in 1954, lives in Hackney and is probably best known for being a guitarist in the female punk band the Slits. Gillick was born in 1964, lives in New York, was a YBA and is now a conceptual artist. The house was built in 1969 in Kensington (inner West London) as a late Modernist residence for its architect, James Melvin (1912-2011), to whom the film is dedicated. From recent interviews (eg with cinema scope and the Guardian) it seems that Albertine, Killick, Melvin and the house are, or were, well-known to Hogg.

D and H, after twenty years residence, have decided to sell their house with the help of estate agents (US: realtors), so providing a cameo role for Tom Hiddlestone. He appeared at length in Unrelated and Archipelago but has been busier since. The couple are both artists with workspaces on separate floors of the house, not that they seem to work very intensively. They often communicate, but not about much, using the internal phone. This is understandable since moving between floors involves either traversing a spiral staircase or business with a tricky lift (US: elevator). We see a lot of D nervously moping around the house - she doesn't get out much. Whether the source of her unhappiness is professional, marital, sexual or selling the house, or all four, is opaque, as is their reason for selling or where they are going. Perhaps there has been an intruder, D is nervously security conscious. Apart from the estate agents, the other characters are minor and tiresome. There are numerous sequences centred on D which may be dreams, fantasies or, in at least one case, flashbacks. Hogg continues to avoidusing those cinematographic conventions such as tracking, zooming and panning which usually help carry the viewer along with the screenplay, so D and H's farewell party with a fire eater and a metaphorical demolition of the house comes as a relief. It seems to cheer them up no end, too. Finally, as they pack some books, D tells H that she has been offered a solo show, or, as he then refers to it, 'exhibition'.

I should point out that most of the film critics in the serious media seem to have a high opinion of Exhibition. For example, Kate Muir in The Times awarded it five stars (out of five) and enthused:
Hogg wrote and directed Exhibition and the ideas developed in her films Unrelated and Archipelago have been given full expression here in a drama of sharp intelligence and insight. Some may find it slow and pretentious, dealing as it does with the privileged classes’ First World problems. But if Hogg is an acquired taste, I have now acquired it.
Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian also gave 5/5 and warned off those of us who like their envelopes the way they are:
Joanna Hogg is an artist and film-maker who entrances and enrages. After the first wave of praise from fans (such as me), her movies tend to get a backlash of incredulity and scorn from those who would prefer the envelope unpushed and unmolested. In the runup to its release, this latest film has already provoked some giggles and putdowns online. Some of the tweets I've been getting have felt like seat-bangs from some derisive digital walkout. It only makes me love her more.
Mark Kermode in the Observer was less generous at 3/5 and commented:
As with Hogg's previous films, Unrelated and Archipelago, there's an underlying desire to scream at the suffocatingly insular bourgeois ennui; certainly, Exhibition requires both patience and tolerance to get beneath its chilly surface. But under the uninviting skin there's an honest depiction of the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship between two people whose passions affix to objects other than each other; who remain co-dependent, if distant; and whose often queasily frank interactions (played out in unforgiving single takes) seem utterly genuine and not a little uncomfortable. Add to this an element of surreal invention (past and present intertwining, personalities fracturing) and Exhibition reaffirms Hogg's status as a distinctive, singular and challenging voice of British cinema.
In the face of such enthusiasm from those whose views count, I will only offer the opinion that I thought Exhibition to be less satisfactory than Archipelago, and, not for the first time here, resort to facts as a substitute for offering an opinion ("not raving but droning"). But DIY'ers of both sexes might like to know that Ikea's BEKVÄM step stool is available as a flat pack for £11 in the UK (only 9.99 euros in France). As Ikea explain: "Hand-hole in the top step makes the step stool easy to move" and "... you can treat it with BEKVÄM glazing paint to make the surface less slippery and more hard wearing and personal". Indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment