Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The scripting is loose and Albertine - best known as the former guitarist with punk group The Slits - and real-life conceptual artist Gillick have the rawness that comes with first-time acting."

People often talk about settings as additional characters in a story and this is most definitely the intention of writer/director Joanna Hogg in her latest film. She pays tribute in the credits to architect James Melvin, who designed the home where it was shot, and uses the ambivalence of this modern apartment in the heart of older buildings in London to reflect tensions in a middle-class marriage.

This at once a simple home, somewhere where the man and wife who live there can get lost, confine themselves away from one another - or even put themselves on display. There's a hint of Escher about its spiral staircase and myriad doors, the sliding of which holds transformative properties. D (Viv Albertine) and H (Liam Gillick) are at the stage of their marriage where even their names have been reduced to shorthand, after 18 years in the same house, are there any surprises left?

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D is mostly resident on the main floor of the house, working on her performance art, an unlikely pursuit for a woman permenantly walking as if on eggshells and whose neuroses swim close to the surface. Architect H, meanwhile, works upstairs, his chair running across the floor like a rumble of distant thunder, a sense of storm to come. This whisper of his dominance over her runs through the relationship, "Just go" he tells her, when she asks how he is through a shut door. With a move to a new environment in prospect, the jury is out as to whether the world D, in particular, has constructed for herself and which is fundamentally attached to the house itself, can survive the shake-up.

"We can do what we want," H tells her, except, what is that? Hogg captures the chilliness of indecision and the problems that can come from lives dominated by the cycle of work - although she also gives a sense of the shared bond between the characters. D may find wrapping herself around a stone sometimes more attractive than snuggling up to H but there's also the comfort that comes from knowing another so well that words are often unecessary. Hogg also contrasts the physical with the psychological. D is often seen inspecting herself in a mirror, adopting poses that mimic art, but a dream sequence - a rare departure from locked off framing and formalism for the director, whose films are noticeable for the stillness of the camera - reveals her inner desires. Hogg also returns to some of the female sexuality themes she explored in Unrelated, finding the tension between fantasy and reality, internalised thoughts and externalised actions. Sex in the world of D and H is an act related to the creation of art, rather than procreation, as children are something that happen in the world beyond their walls.

The scripting is loose and Albertine - best known as the former guitarist with punk group The Slits - and real-life conceptual artist Gillick have the rawness that comes with first-time acting, while Tom Hiddleston glides through the home like a silk salamander in an estate agent cameo role. Sound here, is also a powerful player, from the external 'threat' of diggers or police sirens to the buzz of the intercom over which D and H frequently communicate. Hogg has always had a feel for the brittle and austere and this arty aloofness, coupled with the fiercely upper middle-class setting does risk alienating some audiences. There are also signs that her work is shifting, from the naturalistic to more surreal terrain (something she spoke about briefly during a Q&A in Bradford) as such this feels like a slightly transitional work - many of its themes may recall her previous preoccupations but there also a sense, mirrored by the steps D and H are taking, of moving on.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2014
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Examination of the relationship between a middle-aged couple who are planning a move.
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Director: Joanna Hogg

Writer: Joanna Hogg

Starring: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston

Year: 2013

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: UK

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