Whether it’s class prejudice or simply the embarrassment factor of watching posh English people behaving in a typically boorish English tourist manner, Joanne Hogg’s debut feature of a family on holiday at their Tuscan villa with a couple of close friends has a way of alienating the viewer a little. It’s not however the directors intention to address such issues in the film, but be that as it may, the intitial distancing that the viewer may feel effectively creates the right kind of awkwardness that the principal character, Anna, feels when she arrives and tries to fit in to this not particularly appealing group.
Anna (Kathryn Worth) has been invited by her rich friend Verena (Mary Roscoe) to come and spend the summer with her family and friends at their Tuscan villa. Going through some problems in her marriage with her husband Alex, the holiday may be just what Anna needs, but she’s at a difficult stage in her own life and is unsure of where she fits in. Having no children of her own, she doesn’t quite feel comfortable with the ‘olds’ who sit around drinking punch in the sun, but she’s not really young free and single enough to hang around with their children, drinking, smoking dope and playing their party games. She feels the attraction of both worlds, but doesn’t feel that she belongs o either and that in-between status is an intolerable one, particularly when she ends up caught up in the friction that develops between the young ones and their parents. Anna’s situation is made even more difficult by the on-going situation with her husband, the strained long-distance phone-calls between Italy and back home never allowing her to be fully in one place or the other.
It’s not entirely true however that Anna feels completely left-out. One factor draws her towards the young people and that’s Oakley (Tom Hiddleston), the son of one of Verena’s other guests. To her surprise, the young man shows some interest in her and treats her different from the other ‘olds’ in the party. Inevitably however, Anna feels conflicting emotions – does Oakley present a possible new direction she can find in her life, or is she trying to regain the past by exploring the kind of freedom that she had never really experienced for herself in her own youth?
This may sounds very much like a typical British mid-life crisis film, or one of the many other films about middle-aged people finding a new lease of life away from home in the liberating climate of Italy or the south of France, and in many ways it is. The difference here in Unrelated however is that writer and director Joanna Hogg manages to overturn the usual movie clichés and conventions, often confounding the expectations of the viewer in favour of a more realistic situation and outcome. This is reflected in the low-budget digital photography, which has an almost Dogme quality. That doesn’t mean that the film is all shaky and handheld - the film is actually exceptionally well photographed with an eye for the qualities of the landscape and locations - but rather it manages to achieve a certain naturalism in the situations and performances.
Unrelated may however perhaps be a little too naturalistic for its own good in this respect and thereby end up alienating some of its viewers, only succeeding in irritating them with disagreeable characters playing out banal situations and behaving badly abroad. It’s clearly not the intention of the director to address such issues however, but to deal with real personalities and problems that will be common to many people regardless of the setting or the class of the characters. Director Joanna Hogg, in her debut feature, impressively plays out this interesting time-of-life situation with a remarkable degree of insight, subtlety and authenticity, capturing the personalities of her characters and the ebb and flow of relationships between them. None of them consequently fit the charge of being the readily identifiable stereotypes that they initially seem to be, but develop into people with real inner lives and emotions that sometimes make their motivations questionable and their actions unpredictable.
Unrelated is released in the UK by New Wave Films. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is coded for Region 2.
Shot on basic digital video rather than on state-of-the-art High Definition cameras, any issues with the transfer of Unrelated to DVD are more likely to be down to the manner in which it was made. That’s not to say that the image looks in any way inferior here, the transfer clearly meeting the low-budget intentions and the gritty nature of how the story plays-out while remaining clear and technically strong. Transferred progressively, there are no noticeable flaws, the image flowing steadily and remaining stable throughout (as the director indicates in the interview on this DVD, movements are intentionally minimal on account of the limitations of the cameras). Colour tones are well-balanced, capturing the qualities of the light in the exterior shots and the shade of the interiors.
Two audio options are available, a Dolby Digital 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Surprisingly, the surround mix is quite active for ambient effects, perhaps distractingly so with the use of the rear speakers on one or two occasions. Both mixes nevertheless are strong and clear and effectively convey the tone and atmosphere of the locations.
Since the film is English language, there are no subtitles included, but regrettably this means that there are no hard of hearing options.
Following in the style of Artificial Eye, there is only one main extra feature, but unlike most extra features on DVD this one is relevant and worth your time. Joanna Hogg talks to Jonathan Romney (25:28) about her background at film school and subsequently in television. She discusses her influences and technique in the making of Unrelated, her debut feature, and how they overcame the limitations and challenges with filming on location in Tuscany. Her sense of involvement with the characters is clear from her description of the film’s themes, the casting and where she and the characters might go next.
The subject matter of Unrelated might be rather low-key, as is the manner in which it is filmed, and the posh English family on holiday in a Tuscan villa scenario can appear to be initially somewhat disagreeable, but so delicately and authentically does Joanna Hogg draw out deeper resonances from the lives and personalities of her characters, that she manages to find a level on which anyone can identify or at least sympathise with the very real issues the film raises. New Wave Films happily but not unexpectedly start out very well with their debut DVD release, presenting a fine film well on a fine DVD.