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Archipelago

Graham Eley

Joanna Hogg went against the grain with her refreshing first feature, Unrelated, combining the filmic austerity and deftness of touch of ‘objective reality’, in the André Bazin sense, with a very British look at the mores, inhibitions and metaphoric phobias of the upper middle class.  Subtle and decidedly accomplished, it did not pass without recognition winning the coveted International Federation of Film Critics’ (FIPRESCI) award at the London Film Festival 2009.

 

Hogg returns to the same territory for her follow-up Archipelago.  The characters are ‘unrelated’ certainly and from the same social strata but it is emotionally cooler, the film style starker and Hogg’s voice even more distinctive.  Gone are the more obvious nods to Ozu, Rohmer and other masters of world cinema; this is Hogg establishing herself as an auteur of note.

 

The archipelago of the film’s title is the Scilly Isles off the western tip of the Cornish peninsula.  This is the Scilly Isles at the cusp of autumn and winter where the windswept bleak landscape signals the end of the tourist season.  All is very beautiful but distant and remote; a perfect backdrop for self-absorbed characters as unconnected as the Isles themselves.

 

Hogg again casts the impressive Tom Hiddleston (Oakley in Unrelated).  Here he plays Edward, a twenty something unfocused idealist, who has walked away from a highly-paid city job to volunteer for a year in Africa promoting safe(r) sex.  He joins his overbearing mother (Kate Fahy) and prickly sister, Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) for a farewell family holiday of sorts.

 

Christopher Baker, an artist friend of Hogg, plays a landscape painter with the same Christian name who comes along to provide painting lessons for the ladies.  He shares his artistic philosophy, which we assume is Baker being self-referential in a blurring of fiction and reality.  He advocates neat and organised paintings with room for the odd random element to provide unexpected ‘chaos’; an approach that could serve to describe the Camden Town Group, Bloomsbury and the St Ives 2nd Gen painters’ very British take on more progressive elements elsewhere.  It also has parallels to Hogg’s filmmaking process where her flexible screenplay allows huge scope for the actors to improvise; Baker’s dialogue being a case in point.

 

Neither is there any shortage of chaos within these characters’ lives although of a very internalised kind, constrained by middle class reserve.  All is smiles, hugs and polite chat at first before the tensions rise to the surface.  The family have employed a maid for the trip and we share her embarrassment witnessing the futile squabbles that, judging by the nervous laughter, touched an uncomfortable nerve with many in the audience.

 

Particularly well done is Edward & Cynthia regressing into childhood once back in the family fold.  Sometimes, this is so subtle as to be barely discernible; Edward momentarily cruising on a bike with a self-conscious speed variance so typical of a child when riding for riding’s sake.

 

Absences are so important here that characters who never appear on screen take on almost the same significance as the main protagonists.  There is the husband who keeps making his excuses for not attending, which gives rise to a wonderful mega outburst from the mother; one of those where she carefully shuts the door prior to taking the call and then proceeds to shout so loud as to be audible in mainland Cornwall.  And then there is Edward’s girlfriend banned from attending as she is not ‘family’ or, at least, not according to Cynthia’s definitions.  Neither is Christopher though who, interestingly, takes on the role of surrogate father and, we feel, could so easily be far more.  And nor is the maid for that matter; Edward’s target for a surrogate girlfriend before she legs it.  Watch out for a wonderful scene where the family takes the maid out to dinner, which, amongst the musical chairs of indecision when determining where to sit and Cynthia’s excruciating backfire “demand to see the chef complaint”, the audiences’ nervous laughter went up a notch or two.  This is wretched bourgeois family holiday territory of a very familiar kind.

 

There is no shortage of interesting gender play going on.  Whether intentional or otherwise, both Edward & Christopher are very gentle, assuming traits that cinema often/usually defines as feminine and, vice a versa for the female characters.  There is no particular point to any of this other than simply to reflect the way that things often are in wider reality.  How intriguing it would be if these characters simply evolved this way without regard to the gender implications?

 

We are aware that the family have removed a painting from the living room, this is a deliberate signpost for latent symbolism that Hogg withholds until the film’s close.  When the family return the painting on departure, we see a turbulent seascape, all chaos, all revealed.

The cinematography is very democratic, very ethical.  Middle and long shots from a stationary camera allow the viewers to focus where they chose; the self editing of objective reality.  The camera only moves once in the entire film so as to heighten the dramatic impact of one scene.order cialis online cheapbuy cialis online reviewsbuy cialis torontodomperidone salecialis jelly ukcialis jelly cialis jelly online australia cheap cialis jelly cialis jelly 20mg buy cialis jelly generic cialis oral jelly 5mg

 

Great stuff.

  • Year: 2010
  • Country: UK
  • Filmmaker: Joanna Hogg
  • Screenwriter: Joanna Hogg
  • Producer: Gayle Griffiths
  • Cinematographer: Ed Rutherford
  • Editor: Helle le Fevre
  • Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy, Lydia Leonard, Amy Lloyd & Christopher Baker
  • Duration: 114 mins
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