Sunday, 21 September 2008

unrelated (w&d joanna hogg)

Whilst a glowing review from The Guardian might have been expected for Hogg's lucid tale of a middle aged woman attempting to re-discover herself on a Tuscan family (not her own) holiday, it was slightly more surprising to flick through a copy of The Sun on the tube to Finchley and see that paper give it five thumbs-up as well. Less of a surprise was seeing Alan Rickman, doyen of UK crossover, in the loos at the Apollo afterwards, his Habitat shopping (a couple of tasteful pillows for those who might be interested) left outside. All these little signs suggest a film that has astutely located a previously unoccupied niche within the British cinematic culture.

Although set in Italy, Hogg's film is a succinct portrayal of Blair/Cameroon Britishness. The Italians in the cast, credited as playing themselves, drift around the edge of the picture, appearing primarily to lay tables or make breakfast or lend their cars to the holidaying Brits. The tourists' involvement with the local environment is marginal: they attend the Palio in Siena, but largely see it as an excuse to get wasted; they visit a church where Anna develops her flirtation with Oakley; and finally the two families and Anna walk to the home of a neighbour, where the English husband of an Italian woman explains how the sofa he's sitting on used to belong to Mussolini, and was presumably used by the dictator for his serial shagging. A literal encapsulation of the the film's implication that the passions which the Latin climate causes to bubble in the British breast lie just beneath the surface.

Aside from Oakley's attraction to the daughter of the Italian neighbour, something which is never developed, these English lead a solipsistic existence, entirely wrapped up in their own drama. Which suits the lost Anna, getting away from her husband, Alex, frustrated with her childless marriage. Her crush on Oakley seems as much maternal as sexual; when she breaks down and tells Vee, her friend, about her spectral pregnancy, she observes that Vee will always be at the centre of her world, which is her family, whereas she, Anna, will always be on the margin of other people's worlds. Unrelated's examination of Anna's menopausal crisis is effective; her aimlessness gradually starts to make sense, as does her subsequent recovery, as she goes through the lowest ebb and emerges, more alive, on the other side.

This portrayal is aided by the care shown in the film's composition and its unhurried takes. The camera frequently rests on Anna's face as the world bustles around her. In contrast to the way she feels about herself, she is at the very heart of the drama, her ever-changing thoughts traced with precision. Hogg is never afraid to let the camera rest on a scene to extract every ounce of significance from her compositions. In the first hour of the film, this contributes to a brooding tension, as Anna puts herself at risk by stepping out and entering the teenage world; a tension which dissipates as the film draws to a close, with the piece slipping towards a warmer, less dramatic denouement.

In a sense, there seem to be two films lurking within Unrelated: the story of Anna's reconciliation to her fate; and the story of what happens to the transgressor, the individual who finds themselves driven by circumstances to step outside the security of their social nexus. The former narrative wins through, although it is in the development of the foregone latter that Hogg perhaps reveals how powerful a film maker she might become. To my eyes, it felt as though, the impressive shouting scene notwithstanding, the characters in Unrelated were let off the hook, though this of course is in part a reflection of my own reaction to the well-observed social milieu the film captures so effectively. However, in its telling of Anna's narrative, (assisted by a beautiful performance from Kathryn Worth), Hogg demonstrates an eye for nuance and subtlety, both cinematic and psychological, rarely witnessed in a British film.

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