How Joanna Hogg Created a Cinematic Universe About Her Own Life

Joanna Hogg is probably the most low-key filmmaker who currently has a whole cinematic universe revolving around her. The British director emerged with her 2007 debut feature, Not relatedwhich had an autobiographical undertone, and went on to make two other brilliantly quiet interpersonal dramas, Archipelago Y Exhibition. But it was with 2019 the memory that Hogg began to build an interconnected series that blurs the line between fiction and memoir. He drew from her own life in telling the story of Julie, a young film student in the 1980s who embarks on a formative, if disastrous, relationship while trying to find her artistic voice.

In that film, and its sequel (2021’s The memory Part II), Julie was played by Honor Swinton Byrne, and her mother, Rosalind, was played by Tilda Swinton, Honor’s real-life mother. Hogg’s next project, the eternal daughter, now in theaters and available on demand, is one you’ve long considered shooting. Set closer to the present at Christmas, it follows a mother and daughter who visit an old hotel and examine sometimes tense memories together. Hogg knew that he wanted to tell a story about coping with mortality and parental vulnerability. But only late in its development did he decide to name the characters Julie and Rosalind, suggesting that they are older versions of the Memory characters.

“I played with that thought—Is this a good idea? It’s not the third part of a trilogy,” Hogg told me about the eternal daughter. “But then they embodied so much, those characters at a later stage in life, that it seemed useless to come up with other names. She was not feeling good. Names are very important in movies.” She chuckled when I told her that she was creating a kind of “Hogg verse”. The idea of ​​a movie series existing within one giant story has become the norm for studio blockbusters, but it’s a notion that more independent directors have indulged in, especially those with comedic inclinations: Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, M. Night Shyamalan.

Hogg, however, has created an art-essay version almost by accident, and the ongoing experiment feels more literary in nature. In spite of the eternal daughter Enjoyable on its own, it’s fascinating to consider the film’s links to her previous work and to her own life, especially given that Hogg has once again cast her friend Tilda Swinton. This time, Swinton plays a double role: both Julie and Rosalind. Julie is now a more established artist, doting on Rosalind in her old age.

When Hogg first wrote the eternal daughter in 2008, she felt too close to the material to film it at the time. “I tried to do it then, but I felt really bad for my mom,” she said. “We often went on trips together to stay in hotels, sometimes close to family, so he took very directly from that experience with her.” Like Julie in the film, Hogg felt guilty for portraying such a new moment in a real-life relationship. So the director explored the tensions in her family in other ways through her art, putting some of her ideas into Archipelago and then creating the Memory movies, at which point the mother in the eternal daughter she was beginning to transform into Rosalind. “There was something about Rosalind in the memories that was very interesting, both for me and for Tilda,” said Hogg. “We wanted to know more about that character. And of course, Rosalind is based in part on my mother, so my mother is still around the whole time. But [the delay] it made it possible to have a little more distance.”

The other major change he made since his conception of the project in 2008 was to turn it into a ghost story. The hotel Julie and Rosalind are staying at is devoid of other guests, and the hallways are filled with eerie noises and apparitions. “The Ghost Story [element] It really arose in part from my mother getting older and me thinking a lot more about mortality for both myself and her,” Hogg said. She “was still alive when I was making the movie…so she still had to deal with this thing of What will she think? Shall I show you? But then, sadly, she died while we were editing.”

That loss is a wistful coda to Hogg’s initial concern about making the eternal daughter. But during our conversation, I got the feeling that the director is most inspired when she draws on her past to tell stories. “In a strange way, [it] replace real memories. Or it becomes a confusion of memory and reality,” he said of his style of storytelling, where names may be changed but specific scenes feel stark and clearly honest, as if they’ve been ripped from his mind and beamed onto the screen. . In the memoryHogg delved into an old relationship and, in the sequel, dramatized his youthful attempt to make a movie about that relationship: a piece of self-reflection so complex it feels more like a hall of mirrors, warping the truth into something. cinematically compelling.

“It is very difficult for me to get away from that transfer, from my life or from my experience and work. But I think there’s a need for me as a creator to have some ground of truth in everything I do,” Hogg admitted. “So if I make a thriller, it will have to connect with feelings of mine or with some particular experience. It’s like some kind of foundation that I need that I can’t really fully articulate.” Still, he said, it was Swinton’s idea to play both roles, in part because the actor felt similarly connected to the material. Over the years, the couple had talked about their mothers and the experiences of feeling like outsiders in their own families. However the eternal daughter largely mellow in tone, it’s infused with the kind of English tension Hogg specializes in: awkward pauses and benign-sounding small talk tiptoeing around deeper, darker feelings. In the eternal daughterJulie and Rosalind are clearly close, but Julie is also anxious about her mother’s frailty and worries that she has failed her by pursuing an artistic life instead of a more traditional family life.

Setting the film at Christmas only adds to that anxiety. “The pressure to be happy and joyful is really unbearable,” Hogg told me. “The inability of both of them to name what’s really going on, that’s the unbearable part for me, that situation where you feel something, or know something inside, but you can’t express it.” Although Julie and Rosalind love each other, they are both afraid of the end; Julie is afraid of losing her mother and Rosalind is afraid of dying. “No one wants to talk about mortality, and to this day I regret not being able to have that conversation with my mother,” Hogg continued. “I was too afraid of her…I didn’t want to upset her by mentioning it. But she would have been on her mind, and perhaps it would have been a relief to have a conversation about it. But it just didn’t happen.”

For all of his films, Hogg has a specific process for making raw emotions more dramatically nuanced and naturalistic. She doesn’t use a typical script while she’s filming. Instead, she writes a plot “document” that lays out story structure, visual ideas, and character backstories; most of the dialogue is improvised on the day of the shoot. For the eternal daughter, Hogg figured his approach wouldn’t work, given that Swinton plays the two main characters and is on screen almost all the time. “But it worked, and Tilda was able to improvise as one character and then the other, and keep the sense of the scene,” he said. The film is not based on the usual. Parent Trap–style camera tricks to get both characters on screen; instead, it largely isolates them within the frame, even when they are in the room together.

Composing scenes in this way, Hogg said, helps audiences “see Julie and Rosalind as individuals,” as does Swinton’s ability to embody them. “I still see them as different people and I don’t look and go, ‘That’s Tilda twice,’” Hogg said. The two have known each other since Swinton was 10 and Hogg 11 (both are now 62); In 1986, Swinton was the star of Hogg’s student thesis film, Whim, an electrifying watch to this day. When I asked Hogg what Swinton was like when he was a boy, he laughed. “I don’t know how much we have changed. It’s an amazing thing to know someone for that long, even if you’re not working with them,” he said. “It is very good that the two of us are presenting together something that we have done. And we’ve been through our challenges and hardships over the years… but our friendship has been very constant.”

Whether Rosalind or Julie will return for Hogg’s next project is unknown, but whatever the director pursues next will have at least some tie-in to her other films. “I won’t say more, but it’s tempting to hang on to some names from the past,” Hogg said. “I am enjoying the connections. And I’m always making diagrams when I solve the structure. You can make a kind of diagram that connects all the movies together… It’s a piece of work, in a way, and it will continue to be.” The one-of-a-kind Hogg-verse lives on, and with each film, it solidifies its status as one of the most important cinematic contributions in recent memory.

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