May 30, 2020

Change phase: the unpublished cinema of Joanna Hogg | Babelia


As with so many names discovered at European festivals, on which the everlasting suspicion of a limited commercial career weighs – making those who distribute their films something like good Samaritans – the cinema of Joanna Hogg remained, to this day , unpublished on Spanish screens, despite the retrospective dedicated to him by the last edition of the Seville Festival. The success of his latest film, The souvenir, one of the most acclaimed titles of 2019, precedes the arrival in Filmin of two of his films, Unrelated (2007) and Exhibition (2013). In them, Hogg lays the foundations for a work that delves into the inner emptiness of members of a supposedly privileged class, subjected to states of deep frustration, the same that the director must have felt during the years in which she directed the stainless soap opera EastEnders.

The most interesting of the two is Exhibition. D. and H., two conceptual artists united in a long marriage, are preparing to sell the house where they have lived for 17 years (or were they 18?). They are played by Viv Albertine, ex-guitarist of the punk group The Slits, and Liam Gillick, member of the Young British Artists known for his installations of plexiglass, that devalued material that comes back strongly to our lives. The film is distinguished by its strange and ominous naturalism, under the sign of the objectophilia of its protagonist, who seems to want to merge with his home, ardently leaning against furniture and walls as if he wanted his life to be just as straight. Hogg shot the film in the London house that architect James Melvin built for himself and his wife when their offspring left the home. That magnificent minimalist temple functions as a double oppressor for the protagonist. To begin with, her rationalist angles do not seem adapted to the irregular contours of a being in crisis like her. Its modular and glazed spaces will soon become an uncomfortable dungeon.

Form follows function, according to the main precept of 20th century design. But what happens when the function becomes unclear or is transformed over time? Melvin’s own biography, which lived until his death in that home worthy of a decoration magazine, is another implicit pattern that accentuates the torment of that performer, unable to relive the long-lasting and calm love of its first occupants —at least, according to the official account—, even when there were no longer any children to serve as an excuse to continue together. For starters, she doesn’t even have offspring.

Kathryn Worth and Tom Hiddleston, in 'Unrelated'.
Kathryn Worth and Tom Hiddleston, in ‘Unrelated’.

That frustration, the one caused by living a sterile existence – in both meanings of the term – already guided Hogg’s debut, a twist on that sub-genre that speaks of vacations between wealthy friends in which everything inevitably ends up going wrong. The protagonist of Unrelated She is in her forties in the midst of a personal and sentimental crisis, arriving in an Italian village, where she will be captivated by an arrogant twentysomething (Tom Hiddleston, a regular in Hogg’s cinema, here in a version prior to Hollywood glory). It is not a frigid and heteronormative variant of a pastoral idyll by Luca Guadagnino, but a disturbing study of a woman who aspires to rediscover opportunities that she did not take advantage of in the past, who perfectly embodies the notion of yearning, that imprecise and so Anglo-Saxon yearning to live another life, even if one is not able to define it with words.

In Hogg’s cinema, that is a permanent state and not only linked to the crises that arrive punctually with the supposed maturity. The souvenir, who is inspired by his youth as a film student in London in the early eighties, describes life again as a continuous tension between creation and destruction, in which to go on one must let parts of oneself die, getting used to new normalities that will not necessarily be better. When it sounds Shipbuilding In the powerful voice of Robert Wyatt, we remember that the British shipyards managed to be reborn thanks to the war in the Maldives. Hogg’s cinema hints that new opportunities spring up even amid the worst of misery. Deep down, as we have learned the hard way these past few weeks, it’s just about changing phase.

Unrelated (2007) and Exhibition (2013). Joanna Hogg. Available in Filmin.

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