Directed by Joanna Hogg
An intimate examination of a contemporary artist couple, whose living and working patterns are threatened by the imminent sale of their home.
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★★★★ review by Josiah Morgan on Letterboxd
Lovely little film examining fragility and sterility, one mind-boggling shot at a time. Hogg simply observes for almost two hours, never interrupting the flow of naturalism and concision within her work - nothing lasts too long but we have enough time to survey each image entirely. One perspective-altering shot right near the beginning is a static shot as a woman draws her own face whilst looking at a two sided mirror, we see the shot from the front as the second side of the mirror reflects abstractions of space and area, motion bouncing every which way. Communication is a foreign object to these characters but intimacy is something they're all too aware of, consistently forced to acknowledge another's presence without wanting to. This is so insular that those rare (and stunning) exterior shots feel like invasions of a privacy we haven't interrupted, and it is this insular nature that makes the film so incredible... we are voyeurs on a story that didn't want to be told.
★★★★ review by Tee Emm on Letterboxd
A fascinating and stark scrutiny of an artist couple's marriage and and it's relationship within the walls it has occupied for the past 18 years.
Hogg's film is at times voyeuristic and uncomfortable to watch. Punctuated by the everyday sounds of urban life rather than reliance on dialogue, when the couple do speak the awkward gaps in their conversations seem more important than the words they use. The intimate portrayal of the couple's lacking sex life is also uncomfortable viewing, perhaps all the more as it is portrayed by non professional actors. Ultimately, though, I found this minimalist exploration into the human psyche and our connections to our space a compelling work of art.
★★★★½ review by Michael's Cinema Paradiso on Letterboxd
Afterthoughts: Joanna Hogg (after seeing her 2010 film, Archipelago, last year) instantly became a filmmaker I became extremely interested in. And now, after Exhibition, I think she just might have become my favourite female filmmaker. I REALLY need to get my hands on Unrelated (2007), which sadly might be quite difficult, and I’m suddenly immensely excited for The Souvenir: Part I.
Based on what I’ve seen from the two Hogg films I’ve watched, her ultra-minimalist social realist approach will not be for everyone, nor will the simplicity of the filmmaking, which in my opinion, features absolutely stunning static camera cinematography (I think I counted 3, 4 or maybe 5 shots in which the camera moved).
If I were to make a feature film, this is the approach I would take - where actors have an idea of their character and the scenario, but improvise their dialogue and bring their own idiosyncrasies to the role.
Exhibition is an extremely authentic look at how artists coexist in a household, in relationships and in society, and while the entire film consists mostly of small talk conversations and characters carrying out menial tasks and working on their fascinating art, which to most people would be very boring, it’s actually one of the most interesting films I’ve ever seen.
These characters don’t need a plot or melodramatic story moments forced upon them, because they feel so real that they’re far too interesting to be limited to the confines of a conventional narrative.
Can’t wait to hunt Unrelated down!
★★★★½ review by GrimsChild on Letterboxd
While I have my own laundry list of qualms with her first major feature Unrelated between Archipelgo and Exhibition, Joanna Hogg is the only recent british director who's dedication to form and aesthetics is pleasing and meaningful especially compared to her (mostly male) contemporaries. Much has been made of her reference points of classical japanese and french cinema from Mizoguchi to Rohmer preferring to wave away Britain's tradition of kitchen sink dramas popularised by Loach and Leigh since the 70s (My best guess is Hogg did a lot of this during her years as a TV director and wanted to branch out more theatrically) but I think this is ignoring a very stoic line of class relations through her work. Unrelated concerned the lives of teenagers on a vacation, their lives coming from what's to be assumed as a mostly working class background. Archipelago jumps off from this by having it's characters distinctly middle class, suburban cottages, retreats used to symbolise isolation from all other life and an understanding of family hierarchies that despite being a clear homage remains distinctly british in a way that I found personally relateable and not mimicked in any film before or since.
Exhibition however takes the final step in this through path by examining a british couple whose lives are perfectly moulded into the british bourgeois stereotype of a well off london family in the centre of london. First of all this is an archetype rarely referenced in cinema. British cinema has it's roots in the everyman, spanning from hitchcock's early work about normal people in unusual life threatening situations like The Lodger or Blackmail to David Lean & Michael Powell's characters dramas such as Brief Encounter or A Canterbury Tale and so on. This continues to this day where even characters like James Bond or Harry Potter come from distinctly working class backgrounds and display their evolution rising through the ranks to combat adversity through marksmanship or magic. In Exhibition however the characters already preexist in such luxury and the viewer is forced to view their last stand for 104 minutes.
Hogg uses her camera lens like they're surgical equipment. Each shot is framed and lighted in a way to highlight how clinical the couples lives are. Despite living in an architecturally distinct house (one about as filly as Hulot's relatives in Mon Oncle) each shot is designed to suck as much colour out of the shot as possible. The films few outdoor shots are expansive, vibrant and full of life (pinpointed in a breathtaking closeup of a maple tree bathed in a pink fluorescent glow) while it's interiors remain drained, with its visitors looking into the outside world trapped in postmodernism. Once the landscape has been sculpted Hogg is then free to dissect her characters.
Most criticism I've seen of this say that she is too sympathetic to her protagonist but I don't think this could be further from the truth. The main couple fits the picture of the artistically stimulated upper class perfectly, their existence trapped in a house as sterile and lifeless as they are. Their communications are kept at a distance from skype calls to hatred of the working class from irritation of a man who parks his car in from of the husbands to concerns about builders disrupting them while they work to the wife fainting at a dinner party just to get away from common people (the only time they are at ease is when another upper class played by Tom Hiddleston attempts to buy their home, signifying both delight at meeting someone with their interests and relief that they might finally be free). This even extends to interactions with each other. The whole movie these characters are searching for moments to break away from this monotony. Poetry readings, random strolls in the rain, self pleasure, and an apex at the end of the film with a self performance aspect that while self indulgent is such a visually strong image it remains one of the gold standards of mise-en-scene this decade.
When I first saw this movie after coming off her equally enthralling Archipelago I went to a discussion of the film afterwards and was rather sad that none of the people who I saw it with felt the same way. They lambasted the film for being pretentious, droll, boring to sit through and an impossible expectation to sympathise with these people, and while I know where these views come from this is ignoring this films strange, alien like qualities that despite its nature I found really relate able as a member of the UK middle class (also the final shot is purposefully designed to pound these themes in like a hammer if you missed them before).
Hogg's film is nothing if not blunt. the title, one of my favourites of any movie, is a perfect representation of the key themes of the film and there's a scene where the couple are interviewing themselves in the theatre room of the National Portrait gallery manifests as a literal Exhibition of the characters lives and their privileges and maybe this is a bad thing and a reduction of the complex inter-family social structure Archipelago offers. However Hogg has succeeded in creating a cinematic work that's completely unique. Nothing in cinema is comparable to how exhibition looks and operates in its introspection of the British upper class and I hope her next film is just as revelatory.
★★★★★ review by Rose Miller on Letterboxd
Non-actors Viv Albertine (of The Slits) and Turner-nominated Liam Gillick play a successful artist couple living in a fortress-like modernist London flat. The flat becomes the stage for their marital sexual dysfunction as we witness the slowly and almost silently played out aftermath to some undisclosed event. This is the just kind of acting I enjoy the most - natural pace and dialogue. So often when art and artists are portrayed in narrative film it feels like caricatures of art and artists. Not in this film. The discussions of their art practice seemed real and believable. And so does their faltering relationship as they endeavour to connect on an intimate level, trying to find ways to heal and move on from whatever caused the hiccup in their lives.
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