Archipelago (2010)

JOANNA HOGG

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

, 2010. . Screenplay by Joanna Hogg. Cinematography by . Produced by . Production Design by . Costume Design by Stéphane Collonge. Film Editing by .

Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to her superb debut Unrelated is another fascinating exploration of controlled emotions and narrative ellipses. Edward () has given up his lucrative job to move to Africa for a year and aid in the spreading of safer-sex and AIDS-prevention awareness to the people there. Just before he is set to leave, his mother () and sister () take him on a family holiday on Tresco, located in the Isles of Scilly, where they had vacationed as a family many years earlier when he and his sister were very young. Their long-estranged father has also suggested he might join them, but as the days pass and he doesn’t show up, the phone calls that either of the three characters take from him grow in tension and emotional choler, affecting the way they also deal with each other. While Edward gets friendly with the live-in cook () that they have hired for their vacation, sister Cynthia becomes more and more openly resentful of everybody, picking on the waiters at the restaurant they go to and cruelly rebuffing her brother’s hurt feelings at the fact that he was discouraged from bringing his girlfriend on this trip.

Eventually the tensions mount into heated, explosive exchanges, but they all play with the kind of reserved chill that Hogg employs so intelligently in her work, observing this drama mostly in medium and long shots with a camera that never moves, keeping a safe distance but never losing touch with her characters’ lively emotional inner lives. This method of having scenes play out in mostly long, uninterrupted shots, without the manipulation of close-up coverage, means relying on actors to pull their scenes off with the kind of command required to keep pace on the theatrical stage, and the performers here (some of whom aren’t professionals) have plenty of skills to offer in that department. The gorgeous island setting, which the family is visiting during its off-season, provides a misty, ominous background to the turgid proceedings as it features hints of tropical paradise in its fauna, while never quite permitting the sky to ever achieve a bright enough blue to help improve things.

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