Starring: Viviane Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston
D (Albertine) and H (Liam Gillick) are a married and childless couple that are both artists and have lived in the same house in contemporary London for nearly twenty years, but now H has decided it is time to sell up and move on. However D is extremely reluctant to move on and this dramatic change in their lives allows them to examine their complex relationship with each other and their individual careers.
Though from that synopsis I admit Exhibition may not seem like the most invigorating story, Director Joanna Hogg’s unique and admirable approach to making her films means it is an engaging examination of bourgeois relationships and that though the characters may have substantial wealth, they still encounter the same feelings of paranoia and insecurity as the rest of us. I know what you are all thinking, as it is always the problems with films that focus on wealthy, creative types: “it is hard to care about these people as they do not have the problems people in the real world do, and so it is impossible to engage with them as we cannot relate to them.”
Well, admittedly we are once again given two protagonists it is at times hard to like, though they are not quite as unlikeable as the main characters in Hogg’s previous films Unrelated and Archipelago (still excellent films though), but thanks to Hogg’s style and the raw and naturalistic performances, Exhibition examines themes we can all relate to, making for, in my view, her most involving and emotionally rewarding film yet.
Viviane Albertine and Liam Gillick are both artists, but are not actors as this is their first ever film roles, and Hogg’s decision to use non-professional actors is in my view one of the film’s major strengths. Hogg’s style is to give actors a summary of their scene and allow what happens on camera to be improvised and happen naturally, and this perfectly suits the naturalistic and raw style of the film. Hogg regular Tom Hiddleston also turns up for a few scenes, providing intentional cringe worthy humour in a supporting role as a slimy estate agent, and he is a joy to watch.
We almost feel like voyeurs watching a couple in what is admittedly a very cinematically designed house. This is especially the case as the house itself is very much a major character within the narrative and its design feels very deliberate in terms of the relationship between D and H: they seem to be more intimate and affectionate when speaking over the phone from their respective studios within the house than when laying in bed next to each other.
Visually, Exhibition backs up a little theory I have that blu-ray actually makes lower budget films look better, as supposed to big budget films where the CGI actually looks really fake. The visuals and sound design look incredible, really making not only the couple’s home a major character within the narrative, but Hogg’s wonderful sound design capturing all of the sounds from outside, evoking this subtle feeling of fear, insecurity and paranoia through the combination of just the use of everyday outdoor sounds or total silence. The lack of dialogue and reliance on quiet visuals mean that when there is a heated moment, its severity is truly felt.
The narrative and its meanings are of course open to interpretation, but the two protagonists do have character arcs that develop and it is this and their continual connections to their house that mean Exhibition is an emotionally involving and rewarding film. Being a low budget British film, the obvious expectation is for a bleak plot, and though I do not want to give anything away, Hogg skilfully avoids any lazy and obvious melodramatic clichés to provide an ending that I felt was emotionally satisfying and appropriate.
Many may find the bourgeois characters unsympathetic and Hogg’s style of long takes in isolation feel very abstract and alienating, but for those that are willing to invest a little patience and thought, Exhibition is a raw examination of universal human emotions that is a very rewarding experience and a tribute to director with an admirably unique approach.