After numerous short film and television dramas, photographer-turned-filmmaker Joanna Hogg made her debut feature in 2007. Unrelated takes place in a Tuscan villa where middle-class families are holidaying. Anna (Kathryn Worth), who was supported to join them with her partner Alex, shows up alone instead. She explains to them that Alex has had to stay in London for work. However, we soon discover that this is not the case.
By showing up without a partner and with no kids of her own, the film establishes as an outsider. Nonetheless, Anna begins to enjoy herself, distracting herself from her personal problems by spending time with the teenagers in the house and indulging in their mild hedonism despite the age differences. She is particularly drawn to one of the sons, Oakley (Tom Hiddleston).
Hogg looks at bourgeois values through a story of Brits abroad, which is rather familiar and was perhaps best dealt with by Roberto Rossellini in Voyage to Italy (1954). Like Rossellini’s classic, Unrelated relies on silences rather than dialogue to establish awkwardness and tension. Hogg also constantly denies the natural tendencies of traditional storytelling, opting instead for a type of naturalism where a pre-ordained order of things make the lives of the protagonists appear pre-determined. Also, like Rossellini, Hogg appears to be very concerned by the representation of her character’s psychological state without resorting to easily identifiable tactics of filmic manipulation. By maintaining a cohesively detached style, which recalls some of the works by Chantal Akerman, we understand Anna’s emotional journey and also maintain a distance that allows us to see how she fits into the structure of the enlarged family. Themes of aging and age difference, friendship, and family, love and jealousy are dealt with mostly through the story of Anna. Yet, Anna’s story is only one of the possible narrative that could have been told within this setting. We are reminded of this in those short but meaningful moments in which, for instance, the camera does not cut away from a scene even after Anna has walked off the frame. The implication is that a whole other world does exist within the movie that is not looked at through her own eyes.
Nonetheless, the choice made by Hogg to follow her story is a consciously made one. Indeed, it affects the entire film. For example, the first part of the movie is much more playful, because Anna enjoys herself through her subtly flirtatious behaviour with the younger man, Oakley, who seems to reciprocate. However, when their relationship changes later in the film, the tone of Unrelated changes as well, becoming much more melancholic and sad. In this context, Anna begins to resemble a ticking time bomb, ready to blow up. Her explosion will reveal a deeply personal and unresolved issue that will meaningfully change the theme of “sex as recreation,” as it was introduced in the first part of the film, to “sex as reproduction,” returning us to the paranoia induced by pre-ordained orders of things, such as gender roles.
The performances, keeping in tune with the rest of the film, are deeply naturalistic. Hogg is unafraid to allow a sense of the passing of time to be sensed by the spectator. As such, the film is an impressive and quietly explosive depiction that works both on an intellectual and psychological level. It allows for a legitimate feminine insight on ordinary themes by using ordinary storylines of ordinary middle-class people in an intelligently observant way. – ★★★★
UNRELATED || 2007, UK || Drama || Directed by – Joanna Hogg / Produced by – Barbara Stone / Written by – Joanna Hogg / Cinematography by – Oliver Curtis / Edited by – Helle Le Fevre / Starring – Kathryn Worth, Tom Hiddleston, Mary Roscoe, David Rintoul, Emma Hiddleston, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Harry Kershaw, Michael Hadley / Running time: 100 mins.