Joanna Hogg’s “Exhibition”: visually enthralling and captivating

Alex Farris, Contributing Writer

Joanna Hogg’s third feature length film, “Exhibition,” tells the story of a middle-aged couple, identified simply as D and H, and their relationship within the confines of their modern townhouse located in West London. The couple, who are both contemporary artists, have lived in the austere townhouse together, childless, for nearly 20 years. They struggle to connect both emotionally and physically and exist almost separately within the home, connected merely by its central spiral staircase.

The film is dedicated to James Melvin, a famous architect who passed away in 2011, who both designed and inhabited the townhouse in which the film mostly takes place. Throughout the film, the audience witnesses D, the wife, as she copes with the idea of selling the home she loves and admires. There are several scenes in which D is sleeping with or among different elements of the home. The viewer may interpret this as a dedication to her occupation as a performance artist, or as an illustration of her deep connection with her own home.

Despite their lack of emotional connection on-screen, D and H appear to know each other so well that there is little need for verbal communication. Many of their conversations take place via an intercom or while the two characters are off-screen. The modern townhouse establishes itself as the third central character, as the noises it produces, such as the opening or closing of a door, the rustling of leaves against a window, or the footsteps down the main spiral staircase, provide the carefully and highly constructed soundtrack to the film.

Rebecca Meyers, Film/Media Studies lecturer and academic film programmer for University screenings at the Campus Theatre, cited the soundtrack of the film as one of its most important and defining aspects. The soundtrack comes alive through the sounds of the house and the urban area in which it exists, giving the film a truly authentic feel. Interestingly, Hogg secured the townhouse as her shooting location before she secured her two main actors, Viviane Albertine and Liam Gillick (both non-professional actors). This reveals the importance Hogg placed on the ultramodern townhouse as both the setting and a character.

The emphasis Hogg places on the townhouse as a character makes it difficult for the viewer to discern whether “Exhibition” is a film about the emotional and physical issues in the long-term relationship of D and H, or the ins and outs of their extraordinary, yet cold and somewhat eerie home. Hogg dedicates several scenes to the ways in which the natural and available light beautifully accentuates different aspects of the home and also gives prominence to the sounds of different noises when they come in contact with certain elements of the home. “Exhibition” is an aesthetically pleasing and immersive film with impressive and strong performances by its cast.

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