Bursting with warm, sun-kissed tones and boundless blue skies, Unrelated revels in the lure of an idyllic Tuscan retreat. Negronis and red wine flow as ‘The Olds’ indulge in luxuries provided by their Italian housekeeper, while the self-appointed ‘Youngs’ obliviously smoke, drink and party until dawn. Gaining entry to this rustic sanctum rewards the privileged few with practically unbridled freedom. The villa not only seems to halt space and time, like all great holiday homes, but apparently lacks any notion of consequences. For the haves, paradise is only a short-haul flight away.
Yet, once the cracks form, this microcosm of white, upper-middle class entitlement is revealed to be as precarious as the relationships contained within. As with Joanna Hogg’s other sharply-observed films (Archipelago, Exhibition), the camera refrains from judgement, but the observational approach reveals all there is to know. Hogg’s subjects precipitate their own undoing perfectly, with a sense of unstoppable inevitability once the wheels are in motion. Nothing escapes the camera’s steady, dedicated gaze. No individual leaves unscathed.
Anna (Kathryn Worth) arrives by herself at the villa, after a devastating argument with her partner. She has been invited to join the extended family of long-time friend Verena (Mary Roscoe), but catching-up or pouring her heart out are the last things on her mind. She needs to escape and switch off: rest, relaxation and recklessness. Grateful for the opportunity, she leans heavily into the impunity offered by the exclusive enclave. She may not be a member of the family, but she readily reaps the benefits of drifting into their orbit. In this land of plenty, there are far too many pleasures to avert her attention back to the real issues at home.
As a woman who is ‘supposed’ to have settled into middle-aged comforts, Anna refuses to conform to the expectations of how she should behave. Unmoored after her recent argument, she cannot resist the pull of ‘The Youngs’; especially public-school-boy, turned budding-ladies-man, Oakley (Tom Hiddleston, in his debut feature), whose joie de vivre and flirtations continually captivate her. Worth portrays Anna’s growing infatuation through tiny smiles and eyelashes batted in Oakley’s direction, but Hiddleston temptingly reciprocates through charged touches, hinting that their chemistry could lead to something more.
Proving she can keep up, Anna dashes enthusiastically through supermarkets and swigs stolen wine in meadows. Her hair in pigtails, she carelessly shuns Verena for a chance to recapture the excitement and possibilities of youth. Her every move and utterance divulge her yearning to return to a time when everything was still unknown or undecided, and nothing really mattered. If only she could stay here forever. But throughout the trip, she seems unaware of how inherently futile her behaviour appears to everyone else – including Oakley, who heartbreakingly shuns her for a younger fling; confirming she is really an ‘Old’.
But Anna is kidding herself if she thought she was ever a ‘Young’, or even a worthy member of the close-knit group. She remains perpetually on the family’s periphery. She is, after all, Unrelated. Cinematographer Oliver Curtis’ framing repeatedly isolates her away from everyone else. Even when she is captured with the others, there is often something off-kilter in the shot – like a low angle of Anna sitting at the kitchen table, as torsos and legs crowd the frame, claustrophobically obscuring her face. Try as she may, the film’s insistent framing won’t let her make a lasting or meaningful connection.
Eventually recognising the villa as a double-edged sword, Anna flees for a budget motel in the suburbs. Unrelated suddenly depicts a sharp contrast between the bucolic, tourist picture of Tuscany to which we have become accustomed, and the actual local reality; matching Anna’s new self-awareness and understanding. Concrete, cranes and dead sunflowers loom into view, reminding us that any promised paradise is always an illusion. Nowhere exists solely as a haven for the wealthy to run or hide. It’s just another place where people live, work and hurt; the same as Anna does back home. With this realisation, maybe she can admit her past decisions, and finally find the inner peace, so lacking in this holiday.
This essay was first published as part of the Stolen Summers season. Find out more information about the season here.