Alfred Hitchcock once remarked that film drama is life with the dull bits cut out. With her sophomore feature Archipelago, British director Joanna Hogg (Unrelated) has reinstated all those dull bits. Steeping her film in natural light and stripping away any formalistic film furniture, Hogg’s attempts to scrape off Hollywood gloss for a red-raw examination of familial dissonance are well intentioned. Sadly, it’s all just a little too spare for its own good.
The archipelago, or collection of islands, that gives Hogg’s domestic drama its name are the Isles of Scilly – though that title could just as well refer to our central family; a holidaying mother, her grown-up children and their resident chef. Living on top of each other, they are nevertheless islands unto themselves, battling their own insecurities as they await the arrival of the kids’ father – who has absolutely zero intention of pitching up.
Just how spare is it? Characters umm. And aah. And pause. And stumble over their words. They talk about the tragedy of boiling lobsters, and how best to pluck a partridge. An hour in, you’ll be desperate for something to happen. Which is, of course, exactly how our characters are feeling, and makes Hogg’s film all the more difficult to dismiss.
But compromising rhythm and tempo in the name of bare-faced naturalism cripples Hogg’s endeavours, and the outcome is jarringly discordant. The director’s Terrence Malick-like preoccupation with nature’s elemental presence and her Mike Leigh-echoing slow boil both feel redundant in their threadbare delivery. On the upside, squabbling sibs Tom Hiddleston (next up in comic adap Thor) and Amy Lloyd give good bicker, while a fantastically uneasy restaurant scene breathes life into proceedings. But at a patience-testing two hours, Archipelago’s floating in an arty abyss of its own making. Hitchcock wouldn’t approve. 2/5
Via Out In The City