Home Video Hovel: Exhibition, by Craig Schroeder
It’s often said that the greatest guitar players can be identified by just a single lick or bar. They’ve established a sound so unique that every bit of their music is mired with a quality all their own. Certain filmmakers have similar trademarks. If one-hundred directors were to film the same scene, you’d almost certainly be able to pick out the Kubrick, Hitchcock or Polanski scenes. These directors are able to create a world in their films that aren’t mere facsimiles of our world, but instead, fully realized, breathing organisms entirely of their doing. If Exhibition is any indicator, director Joanna Hogg is well on her way to being the sort of director whose keen eye, composition and framing make her one of the elite directors whose films can be identified merely by breathing in the world of the film.
Exhibition follows D (Viviane Albertine, of British post-punk band The Slits), a conceptual artist, and H (Liam Gillick, an actual conceptual artist), an architect. The middle-aged couple are planning to sell their home of eighteen years, a boxy, beautiful structure that resembles a bomb shelter from the outside and a modern art museum on the inside. D and H live a comfortable life. Their relationship isn’t on the verge of implosion but it’s also seen more intimate days and passionate nights. The approaching sale of their home forces the couple to reevaluate their relationship, not just to each other but to their respective art forms.
Exhibition is Joanna Hogg’s third film. And it is stunning. Hogg, who also wrote the film, is a minimalist. There’s not a lot of motion to Hogg’s camera, but she has an uncanny ability to frame a stagnant shot in the most compelling way. D, the film’s lead, works on her art (she’s a conceptual artist whose work involves intricately planned poses and bizarre costumes that highlight her nude figure) in a room with a panoramic window overlooking a busy London street. Hogg and cinematographer Ed Rutherford are able to take D’s room and open it up or condense it, transform it into a public stage for D’s work or a private lair for her experiments; the room, and how the camera follows D in said room, evolve with the character. Conversely, H works in an upstairs room, small and contained. And Hogg and Rutherford are able to cater the shot and lighting to H’s personality. Not only does Hogg have an unreal ability to tell a story through lighting and framing, much of Exhibition is an assault on the senses. Though the film is quiet and timid, Hogg turns this insular, subdued story into a riveting examination of a couple in crisis. Long, unbroken shots of D thinking or lying still are collocated with the violent sounds of construction, car horns and the unsettling sounds of a groaning home. Exhibition is not an easy film, it’s a showcase in visual storytelling and doesn’t leave room for dialogue or exposition. Characters don’t say what they should. Tensions arise and aren’t addressed. But what could be an inaccessible film, is not. Exhibition is a challenging film, filled with reward.
One of the biggest rewards in Exhibition is, in fact, the most accessible: the performances of both Viviane Albertine and Liam Gillick. The ease of their performances and their ability to isolate the essence of two complicated people would suggest years of experience between the two. Yet that suggestion would be completely misguided, as this is the first credit for either Albertine or Gillick. EVER. Like, “Actor (1)” on their IMDb page. It’s un-fucking-real. Not only are the pair individually wonderful, but they make choices as a couple that give them more chemistry than some of Hollywood’s most famed duos. Not only are the performances emotionally raw, but both actors, each of them over fifty, are fearless. Eighty percent of the film is comprised of long, stagnant shots of the two actors, together or alone. There’s little dialogue. The conflict of the film resides in what Albertine and Gillick are able to do in moments of stillness and quiet.
There’s an unease to Exhibition that, frankly, I can understand if someone were to find off-putting. D and H are a specific couple. Living a specific life. With very specific trials. It’s hard to find a way in. It’s a film from a unique perspective that I can understand a person being as isolated by as I was engaged. But there’s an honesty to Hogg’s film that is uplifting and optimistic. Exhibition will challenge your perspective on art and love. And whether it’s a perspective you can relate to or not, it’s one so realized and fleshed-out within the film’s one-hundred and one minutes, it’s impossible for me to do anything else but recommend it.