Archipelago

The other weekend, can’t remember exactly when now, I went to the cinema with my lovely friend Ellen.  I don’t often go to the cinema, in fact I struggle a bit with finding the motivation to sit and watch moving pictures on a screen for the best part of two hours.  Every now and then however, I get a craving for doing so and for the first time in ages I chose the film.  I usually fall in with a recommendation from someone else as I don’t really trust my own judgement on such matters.

The last time I watched a film at the cinema that was entirely my choice was about two years ago.  It was The Reader which I went to see on my own and thoroughly enjoyed.  I sat with the intention of watching right to the end of the credits, unwilling to disturb my bubble of contemplation of a film that I had found very moving.  It slowly dawned on me, through the haze of my ill concealed emotional response to the film, that there were two other people left in the room and they were only still there because they were deeply engaged in a somewhat heated embrace.  Feeling sudden embarassment, I hastily got up and went.

I digress, as usual.  Most recently I went to see Archipelago directed by Joanna Hogg.  I wasn’t sure if it was a good choice or not, but I had a gut feeling that it was either that or not bother.  It turned out it was a very good choice and both of us really enjoyed the film.  I now want to seek out the first film by the same director.  My first thoughts about the film were that it reminded me of themes from my own childhood.  Particularly resonant for me were the way the plot and characters gravitate around the absent father who is only experienced through the telephone conversations his children and wife have with him; the evident emotional incompatibility of the characters at this point in their lives and the strain this imposes on their senses of identity; the alternation between absurd politeness and sniping that results from the guilt associated with expressing what they are each thinking.  I felt it was beautifully done and placing the family tensions against the gorgeous backdrop of the Scilly Isles was wonderful.  I liked the way the scenery was always bright and clear whether in the background, through the window, or surrounding the characters as they ventured outdoors.  By contrast, many of the shots of interactions between the family members were shot in low lighting or even silhouetted against a window.

I think the most impressive thing about the film and certainly my favourite thing was that it wasn’t miserable.  Surprisingly, it didn’t leave me with a dismal feeling despite the somewhat difficult and (for me at least, evocative) subject matter.  Somehow it managed to openly explore the characters worries, their difficult interactions and their struggles to orientate themselves without giving a sense of irrepairable dysfunctionality.  This strikes me as a real achievement as acknowledging our frailties in our relationships with others can often be a bleak business.  I found this really hopeful and a reminder to myself that we all struggle with loved ones, ourselves and life in general.  I found it comforting.  I also really liked the last scene, where the family depart in a helicopter from a windswept field and it has haunted my memory since.  Its frequent recurrence in my mind’s eye and my musings on why this might be is what prompted me to write this post.  The shot is held until the helicopter has completely disappeared from view, straight upwards, and then the empty field for a few seconds more.  It gave me a reminder of the permanence of some of the things in our lives; the enfolding backdrop that shapes, illuminates and sometimes implacably constrains us.  And again, oddly, I found that comforting.

(This is actually a shot of mine taken in Porthcurno, Cornwall.  I have never been to the Scilly Isles but this evokes the same kind of feeling as my memories of some of the landscapes pictured in Archipelago.)

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