Monday, December 30, 2013


A title at the end reveals that Joanna Hogg's third feature is dedicated to the recently-deceased architect James Melvin, which should come as no surprise since the film is as much a portrait of the sleek, modernist Kensington townhouse in which it is almost exclusively set, as of the mildly disfunctional marriage that resides therein.

Hogg employs a shooting style as self-consciously spare and striking as the house itself, all clean lines, barely-there reflections in the windows, with figures sliced through by venetian blinds or obscured by exterior foliage in suggestive fashion (suggestive of nothing too specific however), and short snippets of scenes that give little away (or do they speak volumes in their reticence? Not so much) intended to accrue into something like a portrait of the protagonists' relationship.

Both are artists. D (ex-Slit Viv Albertine) seems to draw (not a lot) and dabble in performance, though most of the time is withdrawn, unable to get down to work, and sexually withholding. H (conceptual artist Liam Gillick) is apparently successful at fiddling with architectural figures on his Mac, but is hurt that she wants him more for his companionship than his cleverness. They communicate a great deal by intercom (in different offices on different floors), but can share an intimate moment reading in bed (he aloud to her, a description the complete opposite of her character, from Steppenwolf - literary bona fides are further confirmed by Cocteau on his nightstand and Rimbaud on hers). Love and closeness remain - this is not a fundamentally ruined union - but H seems unable to draw D out of her shell, and D seems in a permanent state of fearful malaise, retreating from both work and husband into a masturbatory world of her own, or creating her own exhibition in the large picture window of her study, unblinded, she wrapped in duct tape like some punk nun, at which sight, on his way home, H can only gaze from outside with bewilderment and a little sadness.

Both (debutant) leads do a decent job, Gillick in particular avoiding the pitfalls of pretension and patronage. Although it is essentially her film, Albertine has a harder time with a script that gives little clue to her inner life and troubles, closing us off from her as she closes herself off from all around her. How or indeed whether she will step up to the exhibition opportunity offered to her at the film's close is anyone's guess. Her notion of making it up as she goes along, welcoming all to see her mistakes, is appealing but not promising. Perhaps her sadness is caused solely by the imminent sale of the house, their home for 17 years, put on the market per H's deliberately pat and evasive explanation: "because it's time". D seems to have little to say on the subject beyond a comment that the previous occupants' long marriage is "in the walls", and the film's only really moving moment is late on when she lays around mutely hugging walls and tables. But whether her apparent reluctance is due to emotion or habit is unclear.

It's easy to describe both the house and the film as frigid and soulless, which was presumably the intention of neither architect. Hogg's approach, however, leaches the life out of her characters and their story - another potentially moving moment, when the couple clasp hands at the sounds off of the slick estate agent (Tom Hiddlestone) dealing with an attentive surveyor, is merely mechanical. This is the sort of film where one hopes mischievously for a violent home invasion at the end to liven things up. As well-controlled as it all is, it's hard to give a fig about form or content.

d/sc Joanna Hogg p Gayle Griffiths ph Ed Rutherford ed Helle le Fevre pd Stéphane Collonge cast Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Mary Roscoe, Carol McFadden, Tom Hiddlestone
(2013, UK, 104m)
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