Three Reasons to Watch: Unrelated
It’s taken 12 years for Joanna Hogg to finally reach the definite article. Her acclaimed and award winning fourth feature The Souvenir was preceded by Exhibition (2013), Archipelago (2010) and her debut Unrelated (2007). It’s this film that remains the filmmaker’s least-known work, but in structure and style it set the standard for the cinema Hogg is recognised for.
The story of a family holidaying in Tuscany, who are joined by a close friend taking time out from a troubled relationship, Unrelated impresses with its understated approach to drama, whose slow-burn narrative reaps rewards in its later stages as relationships become strained and the tension between characters reaches boiling point. The central relationship, which shifts from playful affection to hurtful vindictiveness due to misinterpreted intentions, unfolds between the visitor Anna and Oakley, the family’s cherished eldest son.
Kathryn Worth is excellent as the troubled friend, gradually shedding the veneer of calm to reveal the depth of her pain. As Oakley, Tom Hiddleston gives a performance that hinted at what was to come from this gifted actor. Some of his finest performances to date have been in Hogg’s films (particularly in Archipelago, as a son about to embark on charity work in Africa, who spends an excruciating week away with his family). In Unrelated, he shifts from effortless charm to petulant cruelty with ease; in Oakley’s defence, Anna’s expressions of affection are directed with an intensity few of us could deal with.
Embarrassment can sometimes feel like a particularly British trait. And in her studies of the upper middle class in Unrelated and Archipelago, as well as the lives of two artists in Exhibition, Hogg seems to use it as a way of peering beneath the surface of her worlds. Things left unspoken play out as the MO of these characters, until those unspoken feelings manifest themselves in such a way that they either burst out in a rage of emotions, or become the elephant in a room full of spite and remorse. (In The Souvenir, a major reveal about a central character at a dinner party only elicits a minor response from the main protagonist, Julia. Anyone expecting her to raise it at a later stage has overlooked the way that people in Hogg’s worlds operate. Instead, the information becomes yet another character occupying space, never fully present but always lingering, reminding us that all is far from well.)
Unrelated opened to little fanfare. Some critics even seemed puzzled by Hogg’s style, suggesting that it may be better suited to the small screen, where her career began. But the last decade has seen her remain steadfast in the way she makes her films and it is critics and audiences who have shifted in their response to them. When Martin Scorsese was filming Hugo (2011) in the UK, he asked to watch films by upcoming British filmmakers. Of those he watched, he stated his interest in working with Ben Wheatley and Joanna Hogg. The resulting films, executive produced by Scorsese, were Free Fire (2016) and both parts of The Souvenir (Hogg is currently filming the second part). Wheatley’s and Hogg’s styles are worlds apart and their films couldn’t be more different. But what Scorsese saw in them was a powerful cinematic vision. And Hogg’s is one that was present from the outset, in this compelling drama.
Three reasons to watch Unrelated
Tom Hiddleston. Whether you’re just a fan of his Loki in the Marvel saga or a fully paid-up Hiddlestoner, the actor’s performance here marked the beginning of his big screen career. And it’s easy to see why he has become such a draw, exuding an easy charm but also an angst that impresses in this film’s later stages.
The setting. As with each of her subsequent films, Hogg brilliantly employs her setting to draw out the tensions at the heart of her drama. Like the bleak island setting of Archipelago, the Italian landscape here offers a stark contrast to Anna’s emotional state.
Less is more. Unlike so much British drama, which relies heavily on dialogue, Joanna Hogg’s cinema plays with a minimalism that never feels wilfully oblique. More, she understands the wealth of information that can be conveyed through an expression, the framing of a shot or scene, or a pithy put-down. She pushed this to its limit with Exhibition. But that approach is already present in her debut.