Directed by: Joanna Hogg
Written by: Joanna Hogg
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy, Lydia Leonard, Amy Lloyd, Christopher Baker
Taking people out of their element really displays their character. When not surrounded by what makes them comfortable, their authentic reactions to problems arise for all to see. That idea envelops this slow-moving and contemplative film that takes place over three days but for the characters, it may have well been an eternity.
About to embark on a mission trip to Africa to find some meaning in his life, Edward’s (Tom Hiddleston) family plans to have one last outing in their vacation house in Sicily. As the trip starts as simple as it could be, true emotions start to take over as the authentic feelings the family members have about each other start to surface.
Joanna Hogg, as a filmmaker requires patience and might not suit the sensibilities of mainstream audiences. As a director, she has the tendency to just leave the camera still and let the action happen. She’ll leave the camera in one room while the action occurs just partly out of sight, which allows the audience to hear but not see everything happening in each scene. Her characters do not blow up or provide big dramatic moments. They feel real, authentic, and very British, and I love what she brings to the world of cinema. Archipelago shows how British culture allows emotions to fester until their boiling point as shown in the relationships within the film.
Patricia (Kate Fahy) as the mother wants Edward to rethink the decision of going to Africa indicates as she wishes to restrict him in his decisions, just as how she forbade him from bringing his girlfriend to this family-only vacation. Cynthia (Lydia Leonard) feels the need to make a fuss about everything in order to get everyone else irritated. Edward insists he has everything under control when he does not realize the harm he causes for his family. None of this appears on the surface as they attempt to be civil but under the surface, they want to release all of their feelings. It’s obvious that they rarely share their feelings with each other or say what they truly want. So much remains unspoken, much like their father who they invited to the outing but never appears. A sadness about his lack of presence hangs above them throughout the story, but it barely gets brought up in conversation.
The cinematography beautifully captures the countryside and how these characters may physically be near each other, but emotionally they might as well be in different nations. Many scenes progress with extended periods of silence with each second that passes feeling heavier and longer than the last. At times, their silence says more than the words they actually share with each other. Again, Archipelago is not for the casual film viewer as Joanna Hogg wants the audience to be as emotionally disconnected from the characters as they are together and that becomes more evident in the way the film ends. Nothing grand, no big climactic moment where they yell at each other with this big cathartic moment that ties everything together. They just return to their normal lives not saying everything they wanted to and internalizing once again. Deeply satisfying in that manner because it maintains the consistency of these characters and how they manage their emotions. To have them break from would result in that catharsis but take away from who they have always been. This lack of resolution may be frustrating to anyone who watches the story, but that remains the whole point.
Archipelago exemplifies excellence from Joanna Hogg as she conveys so much through limited dialogue and allows the non-verbals to tell the real story of what these characters feel. The environment she drops these characters into should evoke some emotion because that vacation house should mean something to them, yet nothing of note erupts. Her distinct style permeates throughout the entire narrative and brilliantly works with the characters she created on this family journey. Enjoying this story may be challenging for some, but landed with much resonance for me.