Monday, 23 June 2014

Review: Exhibition (2013)

Joanna Hogg’s previous films, Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2010) firmly cemented the director’s name as a leading figure in new British cinema. Her nuanced approach to character driven narrative and an almost voyeuristic directorial flair, has seen the director achieve auteur status and even seen her signature stiff-upper-lip, middle-class Britishness alluded to in the work of others, including Alex Walker’s remarkable debut, Fossil (2014). Her latest film, Exhibition (2014), sees the director reigning in the action to create an insular portrayal of a stagnant marriage and repressed artistry.

Viv Albertine, iconic front woman of punk band The Slits, stars as artist D, who along with her husband, H (Liam Gillick) decide to sell the London home that they have lived in for twenty years. As they prepare to move on, anxieties surface both in the couple’s marriage and in D’s creative ability. The home has seemingly consumed parts of their history, psyche and marriage and functioned as a container for their lives together. Will the couple be able to cope without the luxurious confines of the structure, or will the foundations, that keep them together, crumble to pieces?

Hogg’s style will undoubtedly alienate fans of the mainstream. Her every move is considerably non-conformist. When you expect the camera to shift, it lingers for longer than you feel comfortable. D’s over exposure magnifies her every imperfection. Her boredom and frustration can all be felt via the inhabited space and the relentless exterior noise. Short on dialogue, Exhibition manages to say more about the couple in their tense moments of silence and the discomfiture of a bedroom scene is depicted the morning after, via an exterior shot and the riotous clashing and banging of scaffolding pipes.

Moments of serenity are constantly disrupted by city noise. The moving of furniture, an overhead plane, sirens, traffic and vacuum cleaners. There is no peace or comfort in the marriage or home, as still as it may appear and, after 20 years, the house is feeling it too. D so content in her solitude finds it hard to communicate in the environment, particularly with the vulturous estate agents. She’s constantly distracted. Every crack, creak or crevice becomes a curiosity and she’s captured feline like, mimicking the shapes of the architecture. As the home is pulled towards a new buyer, she explores it from every angle, attempting to shed fresh perspective on the property, in the hope that it will offer her some creative and romantic resolution.

Hogg’s framing and use of natural, available light elevates the film into a different league. The composition is impeccable with reflections and street lights utilised to generate depth and dimension. Each scene is utterly absorbing. There is an element of discomfort also as Hogg places the viewer, as in Archipelago, at the head of the table as the uninvited guest at an awkward dinner party, or crouched at the foot of the bed as the couple “enjoy” a bout of mundane marital sex. The aforementioned providing one of the films most humorous and agonising scenes. After receiving an internal phone call to “come upstairs”, D is next shown, laying lifeless and naked on a bed. As H tries to move things forward, she remains static and nonpartisan, and has all the sexual allure of Christmas ham. Again, in juxtaposition and devoid of dialogue, D’s feelings are expressed subsequently, as H’s forced declaration of love is matched with the image of D laid holding a rock in the garden.

Exhibition is high art, formed from grand designs and manipulated with the archetypal tradition of marriage. With sparse architecture and a screenplay largely absent of discourse, it’s a credit to Hogg’s artistry that she is able to tell such an intensely personal story. Presented here is a unique perspective on the alien lifestyle of an artist. It’s a raw, painful and often amusing character study that is almost explicit in its dissection. Viv Albertine, makes a great protagonist and Hogg provides valuable insight on the internal and external nature of D’s character which is perhaps a reflection of the director's own. When D leaves the house and heads into central London, she literally flourishes, sheds her marital cocoon and springs to life. This is set against a lavish and delicious backdrop of the capital, shrouded in golden light and rich heritage. As brief as the footage is, this glimpse of the city captures D’s remarkably astute confidence and London’s structural elegance, a definite rival to Holy Motors’ (2012) Paris. Hogg has proved that she can more than deliver from within claustrophobic confinements. This perfectly cultivated scene provides significant understanding of the director’s overwhelming potential, should the walls she works so perfectly within, be knocked down.

Visit Curzon to watch Exhibition now. 

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