Not another Sundance movie

I like independent films as much as the next slightly-left-field twenty-something who graduated with an arts degree before becoming a media type. This blog has seen a few: from The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) and The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix Van Groeningen, 2012) to the mesmerising Thursday Till Sunday (Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, 2012). 

Cinematography that is stark-yet-beautiful; story lines that are simple-yet-loaded-with-profundity; characters that are one-dimensional in their complexity: it's what the whole thing is about. Taking in the artful journey of a niche flick is one of my very favourite pastimes. But when I went to Watershed on Wednesday, one such a film left me cold.

Joanna Hogg's Exhibition has been praised for being 'a brilliantly austere and intimate portrait of a marriage' (Kate Muir, The Times), 'superbly glacial' (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian) and 'a wonderful, bewitching piece' (Ed Cripps, Huffington Post), receiving many four and five-star reviews. This was one that I was pretty excited to see.

I found that it conveyed some artistry – a minimalist and considered commentary on modern life perhaps. And I enjoyed some of the photography, appreciating throughout the director's rare boldness and ability to present completely naturalised conversations between her characters. Hogg is a master of saying a lot without saying anything at all (one of those art film contradictions again). But this film was – well – infuriating.

There are those reading this who will have just uttered 'that's the point!'. I disagree – I would have liked to be infuriated for a good reason. The characters – especially D (played by Viv Albertine) – were detestable and their lack of momentum from point A to even A.5 from beginning to end made me envious of the time Hogg had just stolen from me. Although the film maker attempts to generate some mystery around her creations (there are hints of attempts to start a family and of the male's past depression), they merely bored me. These are just two more frustrated and privileged people existing in the world.

I fear this kind of self-indulgent film making threatens to infiltrate the mix of truly original cinema out there, being mistaken for an 'evocative art installation'. For me, it is important to distinguish between the genuine and not-so-genuine examples of the genre. I think Exhibition can be classed as the latter, whereas something stark and moving like Winter's Bone, which I first watched a couple of months ago and found stunning, will always keep me engaged with independent cinema.

I'm not the only one who is aware that the complexity-through-simplicity art house film experience can miss the point at times. An independent film trailer parody circulated at the beginning of the year that brilliantly sums up how transparent this formula can be in the wrong hands. Despite my indie leanings, it never fails to make me chuckle.


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