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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Unrelated
Kino // Unrated // November 4, 2014
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 2, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Although they've kept up contact over the phone, it's been some time since Anna (Kathryn Worth) and Verena (Mary Roscoe) have seen one another in person. Verena's arranged for Anna and her husband Alex to visit them at a villa they're renting in Tuscany, but when Anna arrives, Alex is not with her. Anna says he's busy with work, but they've just had a fight, and Anna occasionally sneaks away to engage in increasingly tense phone conversations with him. In addition to Verena, there's Verena's new husband Charlie (Michael Hadley); Verena's children Jack (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and Badge (Emma Hiddleston), Charlie's son Andrew (Harry Kershaw); and Verena's cousin George (David Rintoul), and George's son Oakley (Tom Hiddleston). She knows she should want to talk to Verena about her problems, but she finds herself oddly drawn to the younger crowd, whose carefree adventures allow her to temporarily forget about her adult problems.

Unrelated is the debut film from UK filmmaker Joanna Hogg, who came up through music videos and television, and entered feature films with a desire to do "everything I was told not to do in television." This is a casual, observational film that carefully examines Anna and her emotional state in a very reserved way, from a distance. It features very good performances from a talented cast and some compelling, heartbreaking moments. At the same time, the film's languid pace is a bit of a trial at 100 minutes; it seems as if 20 minutes could probably be dropped without affecting the film's quiet, deliberate nature. Perhaps that's just my American sensibilities speaking; the film has a certain air about it that can suggest cultural attitudes lost in translation.

Anna's interest in the younger group is centered around Oakley, a fairly sensitive young man. Although Anna enjoys the general exhilaration of being young again, she finds herself more and more attracted to Oakley, even sexually. At one point, she wanders into a shop and buys herself a black bra and panties, on what seems to be a whim. Although she's running from the problems in her marriage, Hogg also alludes to the possibility that her teenage years were never as fun as the ones she's experiencing now, telling a story at dinner about a time she inadvertently turned the teachers on a bunch of smoking students. Anna sits in agony as Verena laughs through the story, and Oakley looks at Anna with soulful, sympathetic eyes. Anna tries to remain responsible, arguing with Oakley about the futility of marriage, but she can't bring herself to apply the same long-term logic to her own relationship, claiming "i can't see that far into the future."

Hogg's directorial style is a bit unusual, frequently framing the action in a wide shot, from a bit of a distance. Numerous instances where it would seem logical to go in for a more intimate study of characters' emotions continue from their wider vantage point. On one hand, it feels as if this technique robs some moments of their impact, but when she does place the camera closer, the power is emphasized. An entire breakfast scene is shot with the frame directly on Anna and the space behind her. When Oakley suddenly appears, invading that space, his comfort level in getting close to her is electric. Shortly thereafter, the pair are in a car together, speeding down a country road. Hogg cuts back and forth between them, saving a cutaway to the folks in the back for a second at the tail end of the scene -- they might as well not be there. Her study of minutia is less successful: details such as servants preparing dinner and long silences don't feel as if they're tapping into anything greater.

Dramatically, Hogg pulls back the curtain in reverse, keeping Anna's fight with her husband in the dark for the majority of the film. Whether or not the technique changes the way the viewer considers Anna is debatable, but Worth's performance is not, capturing the full impact of the eventual reveal. Throughout the film, she projects a certain fragility that keeps the tension up, even during the sequences where she's having a good time. Right from the start, it's obvious that her extended adolescence can't last or end without some sort of consequences. She has great chemistry with Hiddleston, whose youthful energy brings out hers. There is also a moment, a brief confrontation scene, in which Hiddleston is chilling, one that leaves an impact on all of his scenes afterward. The film arrives at a small-scale conclusion, an outcome that seems somewhat inevitable, but the heart of the film is Hogg's portrait of Anna, struggling to figure herself out all over again.

Unrelated is brought to DVD by Kino in a clean and attractive package. What appears to be a natural photograph featuring Worth in the foreground, Hiddleston in the middle, and Roscoe farthest away is a nice summarization of the film's conflict, and the sky has been extended to make room for some critical praise and the title. The back cover has a nice, organized look to it punctuated by a single still, and the entire thing comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case (the kind without holes), with no insert.

The Video and Audio
Unrelated's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is strong in areas where many DVDs as of late have suffered, but has minor issues elsewhere. The presentation is basically free of banding and compression artifacts (I noted one instance), which is quite impressive considering the film opens on a pitch-black road and continues in the dark for a few minutes. On the other hand, there's a digital harshness to the appearance of the image in some shots -- light pouring in from outdoors leaves an edge halo on a nearby wall, the complicated web of tree branches in the background of a shot appears blocky and heavily compressed. The image generally appears a bit soft, but close-ups look very good. Colors seem a touch muted, but only intentionally. Sound is a pretty standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, which captures dialogue as well as can be captured in the film's echo-filled practical locations. The real disappointment is the lack of an English subtitles or captioning track to help with that naturally muddled audio, as well as accents and slang.

The Extras
A single video extra is included: an interview with writer / director Joanna Hogg (25:35), conducted by Jonathan Romney. The interview touches on her journey to becoming a feature film director and her influences before settling into the making of Unrelated. It's an enlightening chat, covering thematic and stylistic ideas in a way similar to a director's commentary, yet footage from the film being cut into the interview is more irritating than helpful, which is odd.

A stills gallery completes the extras. Trailers for Kino's other two Joanna Hogg releases, Archipelago and Exhibition, are included, but no trailer for Unrelated is included here.

I am a fan of quiet, observational pictures, but Unrelated's deliberate pace was a little too deliberate for me, taking more time to build to less compelling revelations. It's an intriguing film, and features some spectacular performances and strong visual ideas, but there's a sense that Hogg may only be beginning to find her directorial footing with her debut feature. Rent it.

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