Home Video Hovel: Unrelated, by Craig Schoeder
When I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien as a teenage boy, it was a revelation. It shaped my idea of how strange and fluid sexuality is and how relationships can be simultaneously complex and simple. Y Tu Mama Tambien, the story of two teenage boys discovering their sexuality at the behest of an older woman, is a fantasy for boys clawing their way out of the claustrophobic tunnels of childhood and towards the terrifying, cavernous world of adulthood. But as an adult, my interest shifts towards Luisa, the older woman with whom the boys run off, a compelling character who is shrouded in vague sorrow and hope. She has agency and her character has motive, but the majority of her story comes together in pieces through the filter of those around her. My desire to know more about Luisa is what attracted me so immediately to Joanna Hogg’s Unrelated, a film about a similar character. Anna is also a cynical, middle-aged woman in a relational crisis. But unlike Y Tu Mama Tambien, Unrelated is told entirely from Anna’s perspective. She, like Luisa, is a woman who (for one reason or many) finds it necessary to reconnect to a younger generation, platonically and possibly sexually, for fear of losing her identity altogether. And though Unrelated doesn’t navigate through sexual encounters like Y Tu Mama Tambien, it’s a much needed rebuttal, offering insight into the life of a character archetype often relegated to plot points and shallow story beats.
Unrelated is Joanna Hogg’s debut film. Made in 2007, it’s seeing a wider DVD release this year thanks to Kino Lorber, who has also released Hogg’s other two films Exhibition and Archipelago. Unrelated is a character study of a middle aged woman in the midst of a melancholic watershed. Anna (Kathryn Worth) leaves her lover, the oft-heard but never seen Alex, behind in England when she decides to vacation with her friend Verena (Mary Roscoe) and Verena’s family and family’s family in a secluded villa in Italy. The vacation quickly becomes tribal as the younger generation, led by Tom Hiddleston as Oakley, splits off from “The Olds.” Despite belonging to The Olds, Anna finds herself clinging to “The Youngs” and drawn to Oakley’s naive charisma.
Though I remain a constant skeptic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, anyone would be hard pressed not to find at least one something to love, spawned from the MCU. Mine is Tom Hiddleston. Though the Thor films are my least favorite entries in Marvel’s first two phases, Hiddleston is a delight as the franchise’s nebbishy-cum-devilish, villain Loki. If you’d like to retrace the steps of Hiddleston’s ascension into charming, (nearly) household name, Unrelated is the best place to start. His character Oakley is a naive rogue; an insecure alpha (paradoxes that also define Loki), and Hiddleston is able to convey that with ease and grace that seems effortless. Furthermore, Oakley is a supporting character, meant to serve Anna’s story, and both Hogg and Hiddlestion recognize Oakley as such, creating a three-dimensional character whose personal arch is present and intriguing but secondary to Anna.
Though Tom Hiddleston is fantastic all on his own, Hogg has an incredible ability to coax wonderful performances from her actors. Both Unrelated and Exhibition (I’ve yet to see Archipelago) hinge on unspoken, tense, interpersonal relationships where people’s real emotions are conveyed with a side-eyed glance, a reluctant smile, or a thick silence rather than words and conversation. Exhibition, Hogg’s most recent film, is a concentration in a relationship internalized. Unrelated is the opposite: Anna is a woman whose relationship quandaries have been stifled for far too long and she’s eager to vent and explore herself, but she doesn’t know how. And because Hogg is so adept at writing (and loving) her characters, her films become a safe place for these characters to explore dark moments in their lives.
Unrelated (a seemingly innocuous title that becomes an edifying epiphany by the film’s third act) is a beautifully optimistic film. Judging Joanna Hogg by her films, she seems like a person who understands life. She just gets it. She knows shit gets complicated. But she also knows that people, for the most part, are good. And they deserve happiness and understanding. Joanna Hogg isn’t a writer/director to watch out for, she’s one that needs to be sought after. Immediately.