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Kino // Unrated // November 4, 2014
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 24, 2014 | E-mail the Author
It figures. Kino Lorber has brought director Joanna Hogg's three features to DVD, and I've watched them in order, starting with 2008's Unrelated, and continuing with 2010's Archipelago. Both films were plagued with a common problem: Hogg's obsession with studying her characters performing mundane things, such as three or more minutes of a woman cleaning up a kitchen. These scenes added nothing to what were otherwise interesting movies, with complex character interactions and a love for placing dramatic emphasis on small moments. It figures, then, that Unrelated, her third and most recent film (2013), would solve her pacing problem but turn out to be the most obscure of her trio of films, still packed with scenes of intriguing character detail, but the one where overall meaning remains furthest out of grasp.

D (Viv Albertine) and H (Liam Gillick) are a married couple, living in a stylish townhouse in London. It's an artist's dream, packed with dazzling stylistic flair and plenty of space for the couple, both artists themselves, to explore their individual creative interests. Such a unique building stands out in the neighborhood it occupies, which appears to be otherwise populated with identical buildings stretching off as far as the eye can see. Much to D's dismay, H has decided that they should sell the house and look for someplace new, a decision which D agrees to go along with (for reasons that are left unexplored), while slowly descending into something akin to a constant state of panic. Whenever she is left alone in the house, she becomes irrationally upset, seemingly paranoid that something will happen to H while he is away.

Although the more tangible relationship is the one between D and H, which seems strained at best, the film is really about D's relationship with the house itself. There are straightforward concerns, of course, such as D's worry that the house will simply be torn down to make way for more identiflats, but this taps into her deeper feeling that she has some sort of responsibility in relation to the building. She comments to a friend that the house's previous owners, also artists, lived in it for 80 years. "They had a very happy marriage. I feel it's in the walls!" Given the unease that seems to have developed between D and H, perhaps she feels they're letting the house down. A few times, Hogg inserts shots of D, draped over, alongside, or underneath fixtures and walls, as if she hopes the house will absorb her, and in another lengthy sequence, she wanders around, looking in closets and doors, seemingly trying to commit every section of the building to memory.

There are interesting evolutions of Hogg's style in the film. As previously mentioned, the film is free of the daily minutia that became a chore in her other two films, maintaining her quiet style while flowing more smoothly. Each scene serves some sort of character-based purpose, rather than just being business to pass the time. She also moves the camera a few times, and changes angles more frequently. The most fascinating development, though, is her use of sound, which is enveloping. The sound of city life -- honking cars, construction, pedestrians, sirens, shouting, etc. -- are constantly invading on D, an ever-present aural backdrop that almost feels like another piece of the house's flair. These are accentuated by the sounds coming from within the house itself: the constant noise of H's footsteps or movement in his office, the beeping of the intercom telephone, the creaking of the furnace, the sound of the bedroom's lengthy blind being pulled open or shut.

Voyeurism is also a recurring theme throughout the movie. The wall of noise all suggests other people, doing things both far away but close enough to eavesdrop on. D seems to be working on a piece meant to be seen from her office window (or perhaps she just hopes it will be), taking a religious statue and recreating it in sheer clothing, then later with a blacklight shining on reflective tape that highlights the curves of her body. She swims naked in the pool, and in a particularly extreme moment, pleasures herself on the bed while her husband is asleep. She seems to be turned on by the thrill of being noticed. There is also a puzzling moment where D seems to go to a theater to see herself interviewed on stage by H. They have a tough conversation about emotional and artistic intimacy, then slip backstage to have sex in front of a wall of mirrors. Earlier in the film, D records this as a dream, but its appearance later in the film is surprising and perplexing. Despite the set-up of two previous Hogg films, the anxiety D is feeling isn't quite as articulated, and its resolution is abrupt. Funny that a film called Exhibition would be so obscure.

It's unclear why Archipelago was granted its original theatrical poster art for DVD and Unrelated and Exhibition are stuck with alternative, and in this case, mediocre new art instead, but it's disappointing. You'd think the DVD cover for this one would have the house in it, at least. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case (less plastic, no holes), and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Once again, Kino Lorber's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Hogg's work leaves something to be desired. Like the two films before it -- perhaps it's something to do with her visual style? -- this is a film that is often dark and generally lacks the kind of rich contrast that one hopes to see in conservatively-lit films, to bring out depth and dimension in the image. Instead, this often looks flat and murky, although there are more well-lit daytime sequences in this film than the previous two, where the modern design of the house looks nice. Detail feels a bit lacking even for DVD, but colors look okay, and no egregious compression issues stood out.

Sound is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and at least this is fairly strong. Exhibition is an unexpectedly active movie when it comes to sound effects and atmosphere, with the constant noise surrounding the house invading nearly every scene. This cacophony of urban activity is rendered with the appropriate amount of aggressiveness, so as to come off intrusive and almost surreal. There are also the sounds of the house itself, such as the low creak of the furnace and the distant rumble of either a chair or a sliding door on the floor above D's office. Sadly, once again, no subtitles or captions are provided.

The Extras
After the basically featureless Archipelago, Exhibition brings out more in the way of supplements. The first and most substantial is Caprice (27:51), a student film directed by Hogg starring future magical forest goddess Tilda Swinton. Having just watched her three features, this short is a shock to the system, a fantasy about a woman sucked into the world of her favorite fashion magazine. It's enjoyably cartoony, filled with imaginative set design and near-slapstick sequences, entirely unlike anything seen in Hogg's movies. It's a nice reminder that her background before feature filmmaking was in music videos, as the short is all about making a bold visual and stylistic statement in a short period of time.

The second most-lengthy extra is an episode of the Kino Lorber Director's Podcast (22:09) with Joanna Hogg and host Adam Schartoff. He's a little bit awkward, joking about Tom Hiddleston's fame and skimming past some interesting potential threads to pick at, but this is an informative chat, revealing a bit more of Hogg's intentions with the character of D, and noting that at one point during production she considered cutting all the scenes outside the apartment. The interview is to promote Kino's release of Exhibition, but it does also track out a little into the themes and ideas of her trio of pictures.

A very short making-of featurette (3:58), sort of EPK-style, contains brief interviews with Hogg, Albertine, and Gillick, supported by numerous clips from the film. The disc rounds out with another stills gallery. An original theatrical trailer is also included.

On one hand, I found Exhibition to be Hogg's most inscrutable film, but it's also her most refined, shedding some of the frustrating aspects of her previous two movies. It also includes the best selection of extras of the three releases, especially Hogg's fascinating and fun short film. Recommended.

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