Exhibition, film review: Joanna Hogg's haunting study of emotional interiors


(15) Joanna Hogg, 104 mins Starring: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston

Joanna Hogg is an utterly distinctive figure in contemporary British cinema. She makes thoughtful, provocative arthouse movies about the tribulations of bourgeois characters.

Her films are intimate, closely focused character studies that probe away at the behaviour and discontents of her protagonists in a forensic but quietly comical fashion. Her storytelling style is low key. The richness of her work lies in its detail and nuance.

Hogg’s third feature, Exhibition, is her most rewarding yet. It marks a clear departure from its predecessors, Unrelated and Archipelago. This time round, the characters aren’t on holiday. They’re a couple – two artists living together in a modernist house in west London. As in genre fare such as The Amityville Horror or What Lies Beneath, the house (designed by James Melvin) is as much a character as the central couple. (Hogg has called the film “an inside-out ghost story”.) The house seems to shape their behaviour and moods. With its vast sliding doors and ladder-like stairs, it resembles a space ship in a 1970s sci-fi drama.

D (played by Viv Albertine, former singer with punk band the Slits) is first seen lying, cat-like, on a windowsill. She occupies one part of the house. Her partner, H (Liam Gillick), is in another corner of the house, working on his projects. Hogg is exploring a paradoxical, very modern relationship. It is at once intimate and distant. H and D seem close. They have an active love life. While in their respective offices, they communicate by telephone. He tries to lure her upstairs for sex. In bed, he reads to her.

The framing of the couple in designer interiors rekindles memories of David Hockney paintings; for example, his famous picture of the fashion designer Ossie Clark and his wife, Celia Birtwell, a fashionable 1960s couple shown in a home not unlike the one they occupy. There are Hockney-like shots of D swimming naked in the very blue water of the pool.

They live and work under the same roof. At the same time, there is an emotional wariness and even distrust between them. D, a performance artist, is sensitive about the way her partner criticises her work. “You’ll just say it’s silly and glib… you won’t get it,” she complains about his patronising attitude toward her.

H and D are planning to sell the house. They don’t have children and are hugely irritated by their friends and neighbours prattling on about the achievements or problems of their offspring. However, their feelings about the house, in which they’ve lived for 18 years, are strangely similar to those of the parents about their kids. They dote on the place but feel they have outgrown it – or it has outgrown them. It exasperates and delights them in equal measure. On one level, they are also its captives.

As the title suggests, the couple are putting on an act. Hogg invites us to look in at their lives in their modernist dream home. The film plays on the idea of our voyeurism and that of H and D themselves, often shown peering through the house’s huge windows at the world beyond.

Exhibition is a film about space and about atmosphere. Dialogue is sparse. Yet it also has some of its director’s trademark sly humour. As in Hogg’s previous work, there are frequent shifts between the profound and the banal. We see H sweeping the water off the building’s flat roof. Hogg films in tableau fashion with a static camera. There are shots of half-open doors and of trees reflected in the glass.

As the couple fret about their art and their relationship, two cheery but vulture-like estate agents (one played by Tom Hiddleston, who has become a major star since being “discovered” by Hogg) are keen to sell it. The scenes of dinner parties in which H and D struggle to conceal their exasperation with their friends could come out of a Mike Leigh film. So could the funny, cleverly observed scenes in which H has a furious row with a decorator who has had the temerity to park too close to his doorway. His anger reveals how territorial he is. The idea of an outsider too close to his home appals him, even though he is in the process of leaving the house.

The film, like all of Hogg’s work, has a  deliberately understated quality. She is leaving the audience to make up its own mind about  her characters’ motivation and behaviour. Hogg has directed episodes of EastEnders and Casualty, but there are no melodramatic set-pieces here. This is a story in which next to nothing seems to happen beyond the couple pottering around their home – and yet it is also apparent that H and D are at a key transitional moment in their lives together. Neither Albertine nor Gillick are professional actors but they are not called on to make great demonstrations of emotion. Their performances are as restrained as Hogg’s direction. (When H finally declares his enduring love for D, he does by answer phone.)

Hogg’s determinedly oblique style will infuriate filmgoers used to movies which spell out their intentions. At times, Exhibition seems more a behavioural study than a piece of drama. However, it has its own gently beguiling rhythm which makes it easier and more pleasurable to watch than its synopsis might suggest – and it has an emotional kick, too.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?