Friday 11 March 2011


(Joanna Hogg, 2010)

Featuring no music, no camera movement and no plot, Hogg's second film is a quietly dazzling study in middle class English manners. Observing some members of a family - a fragile mother and her two grown up children - holidaying off-Season in the Isles of Scilly, the film traces a few overcast and windy days as they delicately dance around one another and the two outsiders who flit in and out; an attractive young cook they have hired to make their food for the duration of their stay and an artist, an old family friend painting island landscapes.
Tensions are evident from the first conversation, when Edward, the son, and his sister Cynthia play a passive-aggressive bargaining game over who sleeps in which room. Edward wins, filling the poky attic bedroom with his lanky frame and establishing himself as a self-conscious martyr from the off, a status underlined by his divisive plan to volunteer as an AIDS awareness worker in Africa.
Hogg finds a halting poetry in the pauses and non-sequiters employed by people with little to say to each other, as conversations peter out and silences swell into rooms. Tension bubbles up in a couple of clenched not-quite arguments and finally explodes in two overheard offscreen screaming matches during which Hogg, ever aware of the awkwardness in any given situation, shows us the reaction of people in other rooms, their strained grimaces and furrowed brows.
The most agonising scene, however, is Cynthia's painfully English complaint about an undercooked guinea fowl in an empty restaurant during which everyone else remains perfectly blank. The aftershocks are still felt at the end of the film, by which time nothing much has changed and yet we feel that everything may have.
Hogg's shooting style is precise and controlled. The majority of scenes take place indoors - the same rooms enjoy the same camera set-ups time and again - with muted, natural light, and the lowering skies occasionally make the exteriors feel just as claustrophobic. She avoids close-ups, so that her people are always shot in relation to each other, emphasising their conflicts and isolations (Edward's awkward flirtation with Rose, the cook, is illustrated primarily through their body language) and ensuring that two late close ups have a sizeable impact. She finds some lovely shots on this small stage, but the film's chief pleasure, aside from the excellent performances, is Hogg's surgical skewering of a certain kind of English middle class dysfunctionalism.
Here the key figure is the unseen father who has chosen (perhaps wisely, on reflection) to remain at home. Mocked by his son and criticised by his wife, his absence is crucial, telling and perhaps the most interesting silence in a film of silences.

No comments:

Post a Comment