The most beautiful thing about Unrelated (2007), writer-director Joanna Hogg’s fiction feature debut, is how the romance emerges so naturalistically. Most romances, even good ones like Call Me By Your Name (2017) (also a summer romance), focus overtly on the two leads almost from the beginning, overdetermining the feeling that they’re meant to be together. Here, the film focuses on Anna (Kathryn Worth), the unrelated outsider, but on the other side of the equation is not just Oakley (Tom Hiddleston) but the entire group of vacationing youngsters. The kids do everything together, and the master shots (cinematography by Oliver Curtis) do nothing to draw our attention to any one of them. Rather, it’s the casting that does this: Oakley is apparently eighteen, but Hiddleston was 26 at the time, and that difference gives him a Peter Pan quality, the ringleader of adventure who refuses to grow up long after he should. It makes him stand out, even before his close-ups.
The sound design (mixed and edited by Jovan Ajder) follows the same principle: The dialogue is all indistinct, until it’s not, and we only hear clearly what we’re meant to hear, the lines that are germane to the plot. Hogg sets up the ambience first, and once we’re drawn in, only then does she get the ball rolling.
Hiddleston is chillingly good in his film debut, equal parts charming and callous held together by the blitheness of youth. Worth is exemplary in the complementary role, the Wendy who has grown up but wishes she hadn’t. Speaking of casting, Badge, the only girl in the group, is played by Emma Hiddleston, Tom’s younger sister, which is frankly brilliant; casting a sibling effectively precludes any possible sexual tension with Oakley or sexual competition with Anna. Needless to say, Emma fits right in as the younger girl rolling with the boys.
Hogg deploys a number of clever shot compositions: The scene glimpsed in a window reflection on the last morning is obvious, but also notice how, in the shot of the crowd in the town, Anna and Verena (Mary Roscoe) are hidden from the camera until they suddenly yet unobtrusively appear. And when a shot isn’t particularly clever, it’s gorgeous. It’s an amazing film, let alone debut.