Red Road

Cannes Film Festival 2006 (World Premiere)–British director Andrea Arnold makes a striking feature debut with “Red Road,” a haunting, topical drama about paranoia induced by increasing surveillance that also deals provocatively with female sexuality.

The only film from the U.K. at last year's Cannes Film Festival competition, and the only one directed by a woman, “Red Road” won the Grand Jury Prize and traveled the global festival circuit, before opening in Europe. Almost a year after its world premiere, “Red Road” is now released in the U.S. by Tartan Films.

The film is the Dogme brainchild of Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen, partners of the Danish company Zentropa. The origins of “Red Road” are intriguing. Three directors were asked to develop scripts about the same group of characters, all of which must be based in Scotland.

In the hands of Arnold, what could have been a gimmicky and stylized exercise becomes a politically relevant yet personal film. In the press notes, the director says that this film enabled her to “tap into the things that had resonance for me and write a story that felt like my own.” Indeed, despite the above conditions, “Red Road” expands what could have been just a routine revenge storyfemale style.

Kate Dickie renders a strong performance as Jackie, a woman who works as a CCTV operator, scanning the area around a desolate Glaswegian tower block (Red Road). Solitary and haunted by a mysterious past, Jackie spends her time surveying screens that record other people's lives. Occasionally, for recreation, she dates a married colleague and has sex in cars.

Things change when Clyde (Tony Curran), a man from Jackie's past, shows up on her screen; Clyde is on parole from a prison sentence. After tracking Clyde's moves obsessively on her monitor, Jackie gathers courage and begins to stalk him. Since Clyde is being stalked, he's shot from behind; Arnold withholds a clear look at his face, which increases the suspense.

Stalking leads to seduction, motivated by desire for revenge for a mysterious crime. Jackie approaches the unsuspecting Clyde in a seduction act that combines attraction and repulsion, and the sex scenes are candid and graphic. The mysterious crime is clarified toward the end of the story, though the very last scene is twisty and quite ambiguous.

Like Michael Haneke's “Cache, the recent German Oscar-winner “The Lives of Others,” and other paranoia thrillers, “Red Road” creates a creepy mood, with tension rising. Arnold builds on those films' situations, assuming (for better or worse) that electronic surveillance has become an integral part of our daily lives in the post 9/11 era that encourages fear, paranoia, and alienation from self and others.

Early on, the action and dialogue are minimal, taking the form of a doubled surveillance. As viewers, we examine Jackie's face, while she examines Clyde's moves across multiple screens. An ominous mood is created by sharp imagery and sounds of shabby Glasgow, with Arnold's camera conveying a dystopian milieu of sterile, menacing blocks.

Arnold keeps the camera close to Jackie as the surrounding world goes in and out of focus. We watch Jackie at work, doing a job she enjoys for the voyeurism it offers. She surveys routinely the people of Glasgow via a bank of TV screens. She spies on kids who fight, dogs who walk, cleaners who dance, and drunken young couples who grab quickies behind lock-ups.

Jackie's recreational activities are also telling of her state of alimentation. At her sister-in-laws wedding, she melts into the background–alone. In the front seat of a security guards van, she has perfunctory sex that leaves her unfulfilled. She has an awkward relationship with her aging father-in-law, who cant look her in the eye.

It takes a long time (perhaps too long) to unravel the family tragedy that has put Jackies life on hold. Its a tragedy that returns violently to haunt her when she spots Clyde on her CCTV screen. Out of jail, hes a tough locksmith admired by the neighborhoods other lost souls, such as young couple Stevie (Martin Compston) and April (Natalie Press), who share Clydes run-down flat on the Red Road estate.

Most of the real action takes place away from Jackie, such as a fight in a pub. Theres a party scene, seen from the viewpoint of a woman preoccupied with a secret and damaged by a past crime.

Arnold has made a bold, confident film that defies easy categorization and announces the arrival of a talented director in the manner of compatriot Lynne Ramsay (“Rat Catcher,” “Morvern Callar”). Though unfolding as a thriller, deep down, “Red Road” raises some intriguing questions about ethics, morality, and sexuality from a distinctly female POV.

Technically, the production's sets and costumes vividly convey the particular milieu of the story and its characters. Arnold's decision not to use music, instead relying on natural sounds to create the righ mood, is effective and courageous by standrads of mainstream thrillers that often rely on manipulative score to arouse emotions. Special kudos go to cinematographer Robbie Ryan and his piercing hand-held camera.

Like some of Ken Loach's features, “Red Road” was shown at the Cannes Festival with English subtitles to make sure that the thick Scottish accent doen't get in the way of comprehending and enjoying the yarn.

Dogma, as known, is a restrictive aesthetic program for filmmaking codified a decade ago by a group of European directors. This new project, which is called Advance Party, is based on the concept of three directors writing and shootting scripts based on a group of characters developed by Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen. All the stories must be set in Scotland and the roles must be cast with the same actors in each film. As the first film, “Red Road” is an intriguing thriller that gets the project off to a rousing start. Let's hope that the series that followsy will be just as good.

Credits

A Sigma Films/Zentropa Entertainments5 production
Writer-director: Andrea Arnold; Based on characters developed by Lone Scherfig, Anders Thomas Jensen.
Producer: Carrie Comerford.
Director of photography: Robbie Ryan.
Production designer: Helen Scott.
Costumes: Carole K. Millar.
Editor: Nicolas Chauderge.

Cast

Jackie (Kate Dickie)
Clyde (Tony Curran)
Stevie (Martin Compston)
April (Natalie Press)