4 April 2011

Joanna Hogg's Unrelated (2007)

This still from the film Unrelated shows several people: in the background a group of three in their mid-forties to early fifties, in the centerground three teenagers, and in the foreground on her own is Anna (Kathryn Worth). Anna is a woman in her forties and about the same age as her old friend Verena (Mary Roscoe), who has invited Anna along to join her family at the villa in south Tuscany, near Siena, which they regularly rent for their vacation.

Not a member of the upper-middle-class family group, Anna is in other ways very much unrelated: she can't relate to 'the olds' as the younger group call them, and gravitates more toward the teenagers, although she belongs to neither group in reality. Unexpectedly, Anna has not brought her husband Alex along with her, and appears to be having some kind of crisis in her marriage. She feels some attraction toward Verena's son Oakley (Tim Hiddleston), and this is to some extent reciprocated.

Anna's deep crisis comes when she can no longer pretend to belong to either group, and then her alienation is profound.

Like the actors named above, this is the then 47-year-old Hogg's first feature film. In 1980 kinetic sculptor Ron Haselden wanted her to make a short film of his work, and after meeting Derek Jarman, who lent her his Super 8 camera, she made Paper, as a result of which she got into the National Film School. However, she was sidetracked into a career in television for a number of years, and it was only the death of her father in 2003, followed by a three-year period of dealing with personal issues, that in the end spurred her on to making her first feature.

Elements of Hogg's own life fed into Unrelated, for which she needed a childless woman. Anna has never been a teenager, never experienced that freedom, so it is natural that she should feel attracted to the younger group as opposed to her friend who has enjoyed the sexual revolution, and has a family. But of course, she remains rudderless.

A number of critics have noticed how unlike her movie is to British films, more European mainland, perhaps particularly akin to the cinema of Éric Rohmer, reminding of his use of natural light and similar social situations.* This Hogg acknowledges, and also mentions that she watched Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia and read Mann's Death in Venice as well as the English L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between. Bresson's Notes on Cinematography is a vade vecum, and she particularly likes his credo of letting the feelings create the events rather than vice versa.

Yasujirō Ozu is also a great inspiration to Hogg, as she is drawn toward directors who have a 'still approach' to cinema, and Ozu pared things down to the minimum and left them unexplained. Unrelated has many long shots where there is no panning and the camera is motionless, and long facial close-ups that slowly reveal character without underlining anything. The use of the low budget Sony Z1 with which the film is shot necessitated this approach anyway, as panning too fast would have resulted in pixellation.

Important events happen offscreen so that only the reactions of the characters are seen, as Hogg believes this has a much more powerful effect, such as the father's anger toward the son in one of the villa rooms that is heard from the swimming pool by the others.

This is a hugely impressive, haunting début movie, and Hogg's second feature, Archipelago - which has received even better reviews than Unrelated - is coming to these parts soon.

*I was strongly reminded of the content of Le rayon vert (1986).

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