Saturday, 21 July 2012

Archipelago (2010)

Anatomy of a Scene:

Archipelago (2010) The Restaraunt.

Joanna Hogg's second feature Archipelago tells the story of a mothers attempt to bring together her family  prior to her son embarking on a volunteer trip to Africa. Rather than review the film in its entirety, the following is a close look at one perfectly orchestrated scene at the heart of the film that is prolific in the exploration of the familal pecking order and a prime example of Hogg's Rohmer influenced auterism.

Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) is the first character in shot. The camera is positioned at chair level at the centre of the empty, spacious restaurant. Immediately, the emptiness of the room cannot only be seen but can be felt in the sound of breath and the distant echoe of clattering cutlery. Cynthia prowls the restaraunt floor in desperation to take charge of the situation. Her heels clatter as she vanishes momentarily "Right," she says, not only to her family but to herself in a "this is it" kind of way. As she steps back into the scene her mother mirrors the motion and enters followed slowly and warily by the rest of the family. Her mother Patricia (Kate Fahey) attempts to pay Cynthia a compliment only for her to be cut off with a contradictory statement about where to sit. The indecision is unbearable to watch as the family step uncomfortably around the premises. The camera remains static and the continuity of the take evokes an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism. Your foreground is perfectly balanced until the characters position themselves and create an uncomfortable adjustment in the symetry. You, the viewer are the only other person in the restaraunt and Hogg has you mute and imprisoned in the centre of it.

"Where do you want to sit?" asks Cynthia before answering her own question and deciding exactly which seat everyone should be sat on. She asks her mother where she wants to sit at the table, then tells her to be sat at the head before changing her mind. The whole scene is a study of control told from Cynthia's perspective. One hand giveth, the other taketh away. She owns the dialogue, asking questions and answering them herself before anyone else has the chance. Once they are sat, Cynthia uses the opportunity to belittle her mother somewhat and highlight the pathetic nature of the reluctant matriarch. "Right, Okay. Now... The next choice," implying that all decisions are to be made by her.  "So, me here?" asks Rose, fallen victim to Cynthia's self-appointed hierarchical position and is afraid to sit down until her master has confirmed. Cynthia is alone in stature here. In applying Durkheim's theory of social class, it becomes clear that the remaining family members are unified through solidarity and their general understanding of familial social ethics and attempts to "keep the peace". Their silence and indecision unite them in opposition to Cynthia's anomic behaviour and lack of constraint. She cannot act comfortable with her position in the family so she re-acts against it.

Finally a cut, yet Hogg drags your chair towards the family's table and leaves you at the head directly opposite the fragile mother. Patricia sits emotionless as her meal is placed before her. She waits until others start before she makes a single motion. The mise en scene is orchestrated so Patricia's fragility can be demonstrated visually. The wine glasses at the centre of the table are arranged as if to form her delicate uniform. The bottle at the centre forms creates a neck, supporting her heavy head as she lets out deep audible breaths that hang in the air like thick atmospheric clouds. The grey tone and the claustrophobia of the scene is in thanks to what lies beyond the table. The brightness of the sweeping landscape, our escape, like the mother imprissoned behind the glass. "This isn't done properly." Remarks Cynthia cutting into her guinea fowl.

As soon as Cynthia beckons for the waitress the scene fragments. She sits alone beside Christopher (Christopher Baker). Only now are we beginning to see the family as it really exists - broken. The waitress enters the scene but the camera doesn't move away from Cynthia whilst she makes her complaint. A last attempt to involve her mother in the situation, she humiliatingly  addresses her whilst the waitress is present. This is where the family breaks apart as we are presented with an individual shot of the mother, and seperate reactionary shot of Edward (Tom Hiddleston) and Rose. The conflict is now evident in the back and forth of the shots. The awkward circumstance cuts from couple to couple like a tennis ball picking up extra dirt with every hit. The camera beheads the waitress, like the family, we are too embarassed to look at her.

As the chef is called back to the table, you are again placed at the head. now at the heart of the discomfort as Cynthia attempts to express her authority against him. The discussion takes place on the perimiter of the remaining characters placing them uncomfortably at the heart of the fiery furnace and imposing a jural position upon them. As the camera cuts to Edward and lingers for longer than you would normally expect, the tension mounts. As the chef walks away Patricia attempts, rather feebily to regain control and comments, "It's actually rather good." Cynthia regains her power when she sets her sights on weak Edward. "You can eat your soup Edward, there's no need to be moody." As Edward makes his escape and leaves the table. Cynthia, off camera sighs "Oh God." ingeniously shifting the entire blame onto her brother, whose inncence can not be determined in his absence. A slam of the door marks his exit, the echoe of which hangs in the air as Rose looks helplessly around the table.

As Edward walks the corridor, his breath and the sound of his footsteps are the only thing that can be heard. Edward goes outside and much to your relief, you go with him. The contrast in the soundtrack is immense. Hogg has given you the awkward and uncomfortable silence of the family dinner and contrasted that with the silence of nature which is cacophonous with breeze, the waves of the ocean and bird-song and Edwards deep gasps of relief mirror that of the viewer, as he wipes away the tears that demonstrate the personal enormity of what just happened.

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