Unrelated (2007)

Unrelated first published by Film4

Summary: Joanna Hogg’s feature debut is a subtle drama addressed at the teenager still vacationing in every adult.  

ReviewUnrelated opens with the image of a woman wheeling a suitcase along a dirt road in the dark. She walks up to a large house, greets the party of teens drinking and laughing by the pool, is told that their mother has already gone to bed, and retires herself, closing her room’s door on the boisterous chatter outside. We know, without needing to be told, that she is lonely, cut off, a little lost.

This is Anna (Kathryn Worth), a childless fortysomething out to join her old schoolfriend Verena (Mary Roscoe), Verena’s husband Charlie (Michael Hadley), and their three adolescent children for a holiday in the Italian countryside. George (David Rintoul) is there too, with his son Oakley (a debuting Tom Hiddleston). The only person missing is Anna’s husband of 12 years, supposedly absent because of work, although Anna’s regular phone conversations with him reveal greater frictions between them. At a crossroads in her life, Anna drifts away from her designated adult company towards the drinking games and aimless pleasure-seeking of the younger vacationers – and she is drawn in particular to Oakley, in all his cocky irresponsibility. Except that it is, for Anna, well past the time to put away childish things… 

With its lingering wide shots and natural soundtrack, Unrelated is unreservedly an adult film, eschewing fancy special effects or wild narrative leaps for character drama, painstakingly observed and subtly performed. Not that it lacks for tension. There are suspenseful sequences here when it looks as though the slowdance carried out by these characters might at any moment erupt into melodramatic outbursts, sexual taboos, or even violence, but the film always withdraws from the brink, as thought it was peering down over the edge merely to delineate its own elevated position, above and beyond such superficialities of plotting. 

Take, for example, the scene in which George has a bitter, high-volume argument with his son. Hogg chooses to keep it entirely offscreen, instead focussing on the rest of the holidaymakers, exiled to the poolside where they must eavesdrop awkwardly on all the shouting indoors, and looking as though they just wish the quieter sounds of the cicadas chirping would return. George’s momentary shrillness makes for an embarrassing intrusion at the margins of Hogg’s delicately constructed mood of restraint, wherein turmoil is almost always internalised. 

Here dramas are conveyed not by action, but by a facial expression, by a glance exchanged, or by the striking way in which Hogg orients her different characters within the camera’s frame to show their shifting tribal allegiances. A single shot of the ensemble walking to a lunch at a neighbouring house captures the different generations, and Anna’s alienation from both, better than any speech (let alone a tempestuous confrontation) could – and Hogg proves herself a grand mistress of these revealing group configurations. 

A mature film about a woman not yet ready for maturity, Unrelated is a painfully honest affair which, though unlikely to pull in the teen demographic, will certainly strike several chords with the over-thirties crowd, for whom delayed adolescence (or even second childhood) can be a chronic condition. Directed with an assured naturalism that conceals its own artfulness (think Antonioni, Ozu or Bergman), Hogg’s film paints an utterly believable portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakup, making one last grab for a kind of life that she knows is already beyond her grasp.   

In a nutshell: Though concerned with the futile pursuit of youth, this astonishingly assured debut feature from Joanna Hogg is definitely one to be savoured by the olds. 

© Anton Bitel