This was a really interesting first film from writer and director Joanna Hogg. Anna, played superbly here by Kathryn Worth in her first film role, arrives to join her old school friend Verena (Mary Roscoe) who is on holiday in a villa in Tuscany with her family and another family in what is clearly an annual arrangement. Anna was supposed to bring her partner Alex with her, but cited his pressure of work as the reason for her arriving alone. In fact, it quickly becomes apparent that Alex and Anna’s relationship is in a rocky place, and Anna is in Italy to enjoy a bit of space.
The holiday party divided into the old and the young. Anna, whose place should have been with her school friend and ‘the olds’, gravitated to the more whizzy youngsters with their loud drinking games, skinny dipping, dope smoking and general hell-raising in a battered Fiat, trustingly lent by neighbouring friends. Verena’s son Oakley (Tom Hiddleston) began to show an interest in Anna, but he eventually rejected her signals, leaving her struggling to bond with any group.
This was a wonderful film about a woman in her mid-life. It was also a telling study of an outsider being pitched into a different world. Verena and her family were well-to-do middle class, but were not an endearing bunch. The older people were insensitive and unfriendly to Anna, who was in need of someone to talk to; the youngsters, let loose from public school, were brash and spoilt. Anyone who has been ignored in a social situation – and there was a wonderful lunch scene here, featuring Mussolini’s sofa – will recognise exactly where Joanne Hogg is coming from, and it makes rather uncomfortable viewing for its target audience. It takes Anna’s flight to a grim local hotel to finally galvanise Verena into having the conversation she should have had much earlier, in a highly charged scene.
But it was the way that this was filmed which made this something out of the ordinary. There were lovely set pieces in the Tuscan countryside, and in Sienna, but the weather was not always sunny, and often there was a wind blowing. Hogg was bold in her approach: at several points, the camera held steady on Anna, even when conversation and action was going on out of shot, and there were long slow scenes. A car crash did not show what happened, but only the vehicle being pulled out of a field by a tow truck, with the (unharmed but shaken) occupants standing about, as one does. A key scene was an almighty row between Oakley and his father George (David Rintoul) which took place inside the villa: we had to join the families sitting about outside, and like them, we were forced to listen to the dangerous raging coming from inside. And we all had to wait to see who came out of the house first, and in what state.
The slow pace and arthouse style of film will probably annoy and delight audiences in equal measure. I loved it and am very keen to see what Joanna Hogg does next.