Why did I not pick up on the growing buzz around Joanna Hogg’s Unrelated until very recently?Is it because I’m out of touch? Quite possibly, though I’ve made a conscious effort this year to keep up with new releases (there are just so many old ones to catch up on!), and I’m getting better at staying on top of things. Is it maybe because it had to struggle for distribution, despite winning the FIPRESCI Prize (that’s from the International Federation of Film Critics) at the 2007 London Film Festival? Maybe – it also scooped the Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer, and the London Critics Circle Film Award for Breakthrough British Filmmaker, plus the The Guardian First Film Award (beating Control, Eden Lake, Persepolis and In Bruges), which is how I noticed it. Or maybe it’s because all of the attention that coul possibly be paid to films about British holidays going sour had already been diverted towards Donkey Punch and the chavsploitation slasher movie, Eden Lake. Joanna Hogg’s debut feature doesn’t belong in their company, though all three focus on upper middle class holiday-makers being squeezed by their own thoughtless insularity (though I don’t really buy into the interpretation that Eden Lake‘s abused couple had it coming – the film clearly posits its main teen monsters as an unreasonable force of evil, a self-perpetuating underclass).
In Unrelated, a fortysomething woman takes refuge from a troubled marriage by staying with with a schoolfriend and her family at their Tuscan villa. Struggling to fit in with the entrenched family routines, she is drawn towards the family’s youth, developing a slightly awkward flirtation with one of the boys. Anna’s incursion into the clique’s strained relationships becomes a catalyst for the unleashing of pent-up resentments, revealing the undercurrents of angst beneath the layers of privilege and compulsive party games.
Photographer and TV director Hogg uses long takes and static frames to allow scenes to develop naturalistically in front of the camera. It seems as though the menacing aura of some scenes, as when Anna finds herself naked in a swimming pool with the three boys, was not originally intended, but was a natural side effect of the camera’s dispassionate gaze. At times it’s like Bruno Dumont remaking Shirley Valentine. While some of the compositions are mannered and deliberate, keeping Anna at the periphery of the frame just as she is an outsider to the family, the results are an engrossing, naturalistic air inflected with just the right amount of stylistic manipulation. Performances benefit immensely with the long takes – much of the film’s first half is built around showing the drinking games that the family use to evade uncoded conversation, and because the camera holds, you can see the ennui kick in. Of course, it has some of the tentative weaknesses of a debut feature; it is occasionally overscripted and too obvious (it didn’t need Anna’s “explanatory” outburst near the end, however wonderfully performed it might be), with a slightly forced upbeat conclusion, but for the most part it allows emotional information to emerge from body language and form, like an entomological study of moneyed Brits in their natural (second) habitats. The tale of a middle-aged woman “finding herself” on holiday in Tuscany could so easily have been a cloying, sentimental cop-out, but thanks largely to Kathryn Worth’s superbly modulated performance (look out for the way her posture changes slightly whenever she phones her husband), it hangs together as an acutely observed picture of bourgeois holiday-making.
Review from The Guardian about the film winning the First Film Award.
Interview with Joanna Hogg at Kamera.
Another interview, by Nick Roddick, from This is London.
Yet another interview, from Eye for Film.
Brief interview clips from BFI 75.