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‘Exhibition’ puts artist couple’s relationship on display

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
Form follows function in this modernist house on a quiet street in London. Stacked in clean, streamlined boxes, the floors of the place are wrapped in glass.
It is home to two artists, who work in different sections of the house and communicate through an intercom. We don’t have to watch long to intuit that the house is like their marriage: compartmentalized but comfortable, hiding its share of secrets despite the great views in every direction.
The home, a real place designed by architect James Melvin, is the primary location of “Exhibition,” a new film by British director Joanna Hogg. Hanging over the action (if “action” is the right word for this immersive, elliptical movie) is a pending sale of the home, which has put the spouses on different sides of the fence; he’s ready to move, she is hesitant.
The two roles are played by non-actors: the wife is known as D, and played by Viv Albertine (onetime member of the Brit-punk band The Slits), husband H is played by artist Liam Gillick. The one-off performances are completely credible.
The two remain physical with each other, albeit with a few quirks. He’s stymied by her reluctance to share her working methods, which she chalks up to his tendency to pass judgment. We see her more often by herself, frequently trying out strategies for her performance art while tentatively allowing the neighbors to see what she’s up to through the windows.
I think that’s what she’s doing, anyway. “Exhibition” does not spell out its purposes, at least not often.
It comes as a relief, after H and D have gone to a dinner party across the street and D has had a fainting spell, when we hear them talking about the spell being a tactic for escaping dull company. Other sequences, equally inscrutable or vaguely alarming, are left unexplained.
All of which will undoubtedly annoy some unsuspecting viewers, although for the most part Hogg has made a consistently intriguing movie. Maybe it’s the sense that something serious has happened in the past, and remains coursing beneath the surface through the most mundane sequences.
Maybe D knows that their world will collapse when they give up this unique domicile. Maybe H knows that, too; maybe that’s why he’s pushing for it. Whatever they are thinking, after they move out of the place, I give the marriage six months.
“Exhibition" (three stars)
An artist couple contemplates whether to sell their sleekly designed London home, and the difference of opinion charts the way the marriage might be on unstable ground. Joanna Hogg’s mostly non-narrative film is oddly compelling, even if almost nothing happens in terms of plot.
Rating: Not rated; probably R for nudity
Opening: Friday April 11 at the Northwest Film Forum.

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