Hailed as the British debut of the year, and the discovery of a major new talent, Joanna Hogg’s film deals with Anna, a fortyish childless woman who, leaving her partner at home, joins the family of an old friend at a Tuscan villa. Rather than the adults, she finds herself drawn to the company of the teenagers, but discovers she can never really be part of either group. Kathryn Worth gives a highly praised performance as the awkward outsider Anna, and rising new actor Tom Hiddleston also shines as the manipulative eldest son, Oakley.
Joanna Hogg's first film makes her someone to watch out for. The naturalistic fly on wall quality of the dialogue takes you into the world of an upper middle class extended family holiday group - 3 adults and 4 teenagers through the eyes of a 40 something guest, Anna, who is an old schoolfriend of Verena, the mother of three of the teenagers. Anna finds it hard to reconnect with Verena - she has come without her husband, and we see early on that this was a last minute decision of hers and that there is some problem with her marriage. She gets drawn towards the young and slightly makes a fool of herself by getting sexually attracted to the eldest teenage boy (Tom Hiddleston). The visual aspect is stunning: the setting is Tuscany near Siena, but the the stunning holiday brochure quality landscapes and evocative skies have electrical pylons, supermarket car parks, traffic islands and flyovers, the stylish interiors have the unpacked belongings heaped on unmade beds. The holiday realism extends to showing all the tensions between the characters including a horrendous off-screen father-son row which all the others have to listen to.
It is possible to be put off by the level of social class portrayed - the teenagers are spoilt and conceited, the adults (aside from Anna) have all the smugness of privilege - but their unpleasant aspects are not glossed over and there is enough universality in the whole family holiday experience (good and bad) to allow the viewer some identification. One other problem is that the fly on the wall quality of the sound extends to how it is recorded, and the dialogue indoors when everyone is talking at once, is difficult to hear at times. this may be part of Hogg's technique - she doesn't like to signpost or have clunky expositional dialogue. The viewer is left to do the work of gradually piecing things together.
I took out this film after I had seen Archipelago, Hogg's brilliant second film. The later film is better but recognisably the same voicing honing her craft and mining similar material. Hogg's influences are in the European art film auteur tradition but her vision is pervaded by the peculiarity of Englishness. Understated subtle & penetrating - the kind of film that gets richer on further viewing.