No group of people sit better together in awkward silence than family.
Edward (Tom Hiddleston, Thor) is leaving his comfortable life in England to do volunteer work in Africa. His sister Cynthia (Lydia Leonard, The Fifth Estate), decides that she and their mother Patricia (Kate Fahy) would give him a sendoff at the beach cottage they rented as a young family. But two weeks feels like two years, when the closeness in proximity reveals relationships of this very dysfunctional family are put to the test.
An archipelago is a group of scattered islands in a large body of water, and there couldn’t be a more perfect title for this movie. The family portrayed here are definitely islands separated by an emotional gulf, and it seems nothing can bridge that gap -not even an intended celebratory weekend near the shore.
Archipelago is written and directed by Joanne Hogg, who captures all the awkwardness, uncomfortableness, and baggage that sometimes come with families who never address the problems at the root of their relationships. She uses wide shots to show the distance between the family members, and the lack of close ups highlights the distance that so permeates this family.
I?m not waitin’ until the end to tell you that I love this movie; but my endorsement does come with a bit of a caveat, particularly for those who like their movies with lots of quick cuts and a plethora of action sequences. Archipelago is a film that takes its time to get where it’s going; I would even say that at times it seems to stand perfectly still. It may sound like the equivalent of watching paint dry, but it is anything but. Hogg creates a tension that leaps off the screen and allows the viewer to experience the disquiet along with the characters.
Watching Archipelago is like viewing life in real time. There are scenes where the characters are simply sitting, or staring off into the distance, playing it safe by avoiding all eye contact. I’m sure most of us can relate to this uneasiness because we’ve all experienced times when we were in a room with people, wracking our brains to come up with something — anything to talk about.
Edward (Hiddleston) is the quiet non-confrontational sort, surrounded his entire life by a distant mother and an overly controlling sister that dismisses and demeans him at every turn. This getaway was not his idea, Cynthia wanted this “family only” getaway, and made it clear that Edward’s girlfriend was not welcomed. This upset Edward, who goes along with it regardless, avoiding an unnecessary conflict. The emotionally vacant Cynthia is at her most comfortable when dictating the movements of the people in her life. Patricia, who has grown weary of her children, submits to Cynthia’s whims, allowing her daughter to treat her with as little respect as she does Edward.
Archipelago dissects this family’s relationship, but not in the way most films of this type do. There are no weepy emotional breakthroughs, or defining moments that get to the heart of the matter. It’s a very English, stiff upper lip, way of dealing with the difficulty of familial relationships, where the participants never admit the problems; they follow the Taylor Swift method, and just shake it off and move on.
The acting is fabulous! Hiddleston of course is amazing with his understated performance that we completely empathize with. Lydia Leonard is the stand out in Archipelago, a tightly wound manipulator who bullies everyone around her in order to get what she wants. Mom Patricia has checked out of her children’s lives long ago, and only came along thinking her husband would be there to deflect some of the drama; he of course steers clear of this disastrous holiday that leaves Patricia at her wits end.
This Kino Lorber presentation is a crisp 1.85:1 presentation, with a color pallet of blues and greys that emphasize the broken family relations. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio makes for dialogue that is easy to hear, even with the thick English accents. But what makes this film work so wonderfully is the fact that Hogg does not use a soundtrack to get across the emotion of the scenes. That lack of an accompanying soundtrack adds to the uncomfortable quality and unrest that the family experiences during their two weeks of bondage together.
Archipelago is a fascinating and realistic look at a family hopelessly adrift. If you can handle the quiet nature and stillness of this film, I think you will come away, happy that you experienced it.