Director: Joanna Hogg
Cast: Liam Gillick, Viv Albertine
Watch Exhibition online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Curzon Home Cinema / BFI Player
Joanna Hogg strikes you as a filmmaker who impresses critics but has little cultural impact elsewhere. 2010’s Archipelago impressed quite a few people when it was released, but was cold and uninvolving. She returns now with Exhibition, a tale of middle class ennui, which isn’t likely to get the crowds in but certainly has a heart beating under its icy exterior.
Capturing the seemingly separate but domestically connected lives of an artist husband and wife coming to terms with their relationship while also trying to sell their house, Exhibition is shot with a stark, almost unfeeling style by the writer-director. The vast majority of shots involve a locked-down camera with no movement and Hogg often uses reflections or shoots through windows to capture the action. This gives a detached but also imposing view on things, which adds to a sense that we aren’t really watching characters but instead watching people live their lives – like a version of Big Brother, but with more art and red wine.
This extends to the home in which most of the drama plays out. An impersonal but obviously very expensive abode, the house feels like an extension of their personalities; people only looking to express themselves in isolation with bare walls and cold surfaces all around.
While not a film for those looking for escapism, however, there is some joy to be had. Much of this comes from the two leads. Liam Gillick plays a line in impotent anger nicely, casually sniping at his partner with the cloak of “trying to help” – an aspect of domestic domination which he seems to do to make up for his pitiful inability to one-up people outside his home. He’s not a likeable character by any means and we find out little about him, but it’s a grounded performance.
Viv Albertine is the standout of the two, a complex and rich character despite us, again, not learning much about her. A woman who cannot bear the changes happening in her relationship and domestic life, she tries to get through them regardless. Viv is certainly not perfect, only really opening up when talking about, or experiencing, dreams. Regardless, this lived-in relationship brings to mind the fact that she likely gave up on saying what she truly felt years before. Now, she only does so through her art, something that a key moment late on suggests Gillick’s character has not been able to see.
Joanna Hogg wisely doesn’t let Albertine have any big moments; there are no histrionics or any shouting. The devolving state of the relationship is instead played out through silence and body language. She plays this to perfection.
Hints are shown throughout, though, of the affection the two still obviously have for each other. Indeed, the film contains one of the most cathartic sex scenes seen on screen in quite some time – one not there for titillation but in full service of the plot, and all the better for it.
Exhibition is not a film one would be in the mood for all that often but this a strong entry from a wholly distinctive filmmaker featuring two engaging performances and a style which rewards your concentration.