Saturday 5 March 2011

Archipelago Review

Synopsis: Underlying tensions within a family simmer during a break in the Isles of Scilly. The son is about to embark on a gap year doing humanitarian work in Africa. The daughter cannot repress her controlling and angry strain. And the absence of their father casts a shadow that threaten to bring them all to boiling point.

Review: Much has been said in the press about the fact that this film is about a social class that is completely under represented in the British cinema, the upper middle class. (It is true that you could be forgiven to think that British cinema of late is all about gritty social realism or period dramas involving the Royal family). As a result, I actually hesitated seeing this, as I expected some sort of self-conscious smugfest.

Yet this truly exceeded my expectations. I did not find that this film was about the upper middle class as such, rather it merely featured characters who happened to belong to it, Joanna Hogg, the director, having explained that she was merely filming what, and who she knew. And she shows a particularly deft hand at creating scenes that appear completely natural, without the artifice of big showy acting that sometimes mar Mike Leigh's cinema or the help of unidimensional supporting characters.

In fact, I like the way she avoided the well worn path of the extended family/group of friends reunion type of film (unlike the upcoming and ghastly looking Little white lies) and had the confidence to solely focus on small group of characters, a mother and her two grown up children, and the cook they brought along. And it never feels like a stagey improvisation exercise, which again, is a criticism I had about Mike Leigh's latest, Another year.

Rather, with a rather unique style with few artifices, she manages to keep us interested in her characters throughout the film despite the slow pace. Not much happens and life seems idyllic at first, with picnics, cycle rides and oil painting lessons. Yet it is not long before we find out about the cracks and causes of tension: the idealistic son with no direction in life, the daughter who can barely control her anger, and the mother overwhelmed by the absence of her husband.

With this subtle portrayal of a family falling apart, Joanna Hogg can be hailed as a new and distinctive voice in the British cinema, understated yet very assured.

Rating: 9/10

U.K. 2010 Directed by Joanna Hogg, Starring Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy...

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