Saturday, 12 March 2011

archipelago (w&d joanna hogg)

Joanna Hogg is back and she's not taking any prisoners. Archipelago contains perhaps even fewer moments of drama than Unrelated. The takes are even longer. Less things happen. She's pushing you to the limit of your endurance. Single-handedly, Joanna Hogg is creating the new Anglo-Saxon anti-Hollywood, and she's doing it a cinema near you, now!

That last part might be a case of distortion. Nevertheless, the Renoir was doing good business of a Friday evening. There might be a market for the middle-class Ozu homage after all. Or is it just Mike Leigh for the middle classes without the sentimentalism?

Funnily enough, I went to see it with my sister. Archipelago is a film about British families, and, as noted, specifically the more affluent British, the type who can afford to rent a nice house in the Scilly Isles for a fortnight, with comely domestic help thrown in. With her acute observational style, Hogg successfully skewers the gauche British approach to our emotional lives. Edward, about to go away for a year as a volunteer Aids worker in Africa, is not allowed to bring his girlfriend. His sister, Cynthia, is a minor hysteric and their mother is clearly in the throes of breaking up with their father, who never appears. The arguments all happen off-screen. On screen, the most anyone's prepared to do is allude to a problem, never address it. All of which seemed entirely accurate, and, as I say, seated next to my sister, knowing as we do something of this kind of world, it should perhaps have felt a little close to the bone. But I can't really say it did.

Archipelago follows a similar model to Unrelated. A family on holiday, their dynamics explored, with an outsider present acting as a kind of measure of the family's humanity. The shots are also measured, and the cinematography captures a slightly joyless, sub-Tropical beauty of the Autumnal Scilly Islands, presenting a washed-out, colourless palate similar to the range of the family's emotional register. In a way, this is a faultless film, but it's faultless because its parameters are so clearly defined. In one of the more affecting moments of the film, the posh artist friend of the family talks to Edward about finding your course and sticking to it, learning how to be strong in order to be able to do the thing you want to do, in his case art. It's one of the few moments when it feels as though the screenplay is going beyond gently poking fun at its listless characters.

Perhaps he speaks a little of Hogg's own efforts to make the films she wants to make. Which is admirable, and it's hard to criticise someone with a such a unique vision. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling that perhaps I should have felt a little more uncomfortable, given the circumstances under which I was viewing the film. Also, that this accomplished director might perhaps gain from veering off-course, rather than sticking to her guns, in her next re-imagining of British cinema.

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