DVD Review: ‘Exhibition’


A man (H) and a woman (D) live together in a modernist house in London designed by the architect James Melvin in director Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition (2013). Both are artists, though the specifics of their particular media are for the most part ambiguous, and they work and cohabit within a space defined by sliding doors, large windows and a central, spiral staircase. When H, played by the conceptual artist Liam Gillick, decides their 20 years within the house should come to an end – a decision met with trepidation by D (Viv Albertine) – what follows is a tautly realised exploration of space – that between lifelong companions, between work and home, interior and exterior and public and private life.

Following her first two films, Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2010), which focused on the excruciating awkwardness of family holidays, Exhibition involves the continuation of certain themes: the experience of women over the age of 40, the tension of cohabitation, but this time transposes them exclusively to the home, allowing a depth of characterisation that almost surpasses her previous efforts. We see H and D in their separate work areas – he in the upper level of the house, she below, using an intercom to communicate. The split between the spaces their professional lives occupy is echoed in the way in which they share and don’t share their creative processes.

H talks about his ideas, muses on the requirements placed upon him by the art world, and shares his inspiration, where D protects her work, being fearful that his judgement will evaporate all potential for her creativity to take flight. That D is a performance artist, yet remains deeply inhibited around her husband, is a key source of tension in the film, and Albertine’s instinctive, nuanced performance, combined with Helle de Fevre’s tight editing, exploits this tremendously – creating a hugely relatable and fascinating character of considerable wit and sensitivity. One particularly well observed scene has D feign fainting at dinner with friends to avoid having to hear further musings on childcare, neatly revealed in a crane shot as if from a nearby window, when H shows his complicity in her deception.

It’s a funny scene in a film that is mostly austere in tone and, one which – despite their often terse exchanges within the house – demonstrates the unspoken bond between the pair and their continuing affection for one another. Performances aside, perhaps the most accomplished aspect of Exhibition is the sound design by Jovan Ajder, which exploits fully the particularities of the house – every slinking clunk of a sliding door, footsteps light and heavy on wooden floors, the reverberation of movement around the staircase, the swift up and down of Venetian blinds – the noises made by one of two humans in a space heard by the other, conveying the comfort D is perhaps so attached to – keeping an emotional distance but ever able to feel close to her partner through their home’s aural landscape.

Hogg’s films are so exciting because they ring true to the basic human experience of one person relating to another, and though with Exhibition the catalyst for D’s anxiety is no less than the prospect of departing her beloved home, it’s the moments in between any standard plot accelerating drama that prove utterly convincing as a portrait of married life. Where films like Linklater’s Before series use three collaborations between actors and director to get to the core of coupledom, with Albertine and Gillick the weight of intimacy is apparent instantly and only becomes more engrossing from one scene to the next.

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Harriet Warman