The British filmmaker Joanna Hogg has made three intimate, sympathetic features in which vulnerable friends and family members attempt to hide secrets from each other within large houses and open frames. Exhibition (2013) is currently playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, through July 3, and Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2009) will also screen there from June 27 to July 3, 2014.
I MAKE FILMS BUT DON’T LOOK AT THEM AFTERWARD, which means I haven’t seen Unrelated or Archipelago for some time. I feel strong connections between the three films, though. They form a chain, each one linked to the next, maybe because I have difficulties with saying good-bye. After Unrelated I was hanging onto the theme of childlessness, which I had explored through the relationship between the middle-aged character of Anna (played by Kathryn Worth) and her friend’s teenage children. Anna’s dynamic with her offscreen husband had been suggested primarily through telephone conversations between them, and the image of a childless couple still floated around in my mind while I was conceiving Exhibition. When I made Archipelago, I chose to only superficially consider the sexuality of the family’s prodigal son, Edward (played by Tom Hiddleston). The absence from that film of carefully explored sex lives inspired me to develop the erotic life of the female artist D (played by Viv Albertine) in Exhibition and to blur the different roles she plays in her relationship with her husband, H (played by Liam Gillick).
I dealt with the members of an extended family in Unrelated, and then looked at a smaller family unit’s dynamics in Archipelago. It was a challenge for me to reduce a film’s number of central characters to two for Exhibition, and especially challenging for me to turn the focus on myself while doing so. I feel Exhibition to be the most personal of the three films. It forced me to look at my own marriage to another artist, and to deal with my anxieties connected to it, such as the fear I often feel of being at sea in a noisy city without feeling in control of my loved ones.
For instance, there is a scene in Exhibition in which D is working in her study and listens to the sounds of H leaving his office above her to go out into the street. She then hears something close to what I’m currently hearing outside this Midtown Manhattan window—siren wails and people shouting. I’m interested in film sound, even more so than image, because of how sound can engage the imagination. I worry sometimes when I catch sounds I can’t place. I invent dramatic and violent scenarios for them. My fears (much like D’s) usually don’t come true, but in the immediate moment they overtake me. The power of such imagined angsts was one reason why I made Exhibition.
Having said this, I’m also interested in actually observing ways in which people live, and not just imagining them. Even when I am watching films, I look for some version of life that I recognize. I’m not expecting other filmmakers to depict exactly how I see life, but I do want to be struck by some truth in what they’re showing, even if it seems mundane.
We spend much of our lives inside buildings, and the cinema that I like often uses architecture in ways that excite me. The depiction of architectural space is fundamental to my feature films, each of which essentially unfolds within one house. For Unrelated it is a converted eighteenth-century Tuscan farmhouse, for Archipelago a former missionary home on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, and for Exhibition a 1969 postmodernist home in London, very angular like a perfectly square doll’s house, that contrasts with its residents’ chaotic lives. In each case, you can feel a tension growing between what is inside the buildings and everything that has been left out.
I think a lot about architecture, partly because of how I form deep relationships to the places in which I live; they become part of my body and my memory bank. There’s a safety of being within their walls, even as I risk being trapped there. These feelings are hard for me to articulate, so the stories I tell try to do so.