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Scoop Review: Red Road

Scoop Review: Red Road

Review: Red Road. R18 - Violence, offensive language, and sex scenes. Directed by Andrea Arnold

“I have this feeling that I’ve met you before.”

Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold’s debut feature-length film Red Road is disorienting and creepy.

Red Roadis the first instalment of a trilogy, conceived by Anders Thomas Jensen and Lone Scherfig, dubbed the ‘Advance Party’. Inspired by Danish director Lars Von Trier’s Dogme movement of the mid-nineties, directors of Advance Party films are given vague character descriptions, a budget of one million pounds, an immutable cast, a six-week time-frame for production, and encouraged to experiment and take risks. And Red Road does take risks.

Set in Glasgow, Red Road is a story about the dispassionate and aloof Jackie (Kate Dickie), a CCTV operator who spends her days monitoring Glasgow for problems. One night she observes a man having sex with a woman in a park, a man who she recognises, but had thought was gone from her life for good. She begins stalking him, eventually tracking him to the derelict and despondent Red Road flats.

Grainy. Rasping. Bleak. Red Roads imagery is brilliant. Streets littered with waste, twisted metal forms, wrecked houses, graffiti, and the omnipresent reality of the CCTV cameras. Arnold uses a number of techniques and the camera work ranges from intense hand-held close-ups to distant and aloof long shots. Of these I preferred the long shots. There is a haunting scene in which the silhouettes of the Red Road flats and two cranes are set against the last moments of sunset. This is clever and elides to the role which industrialization has played in creating the flats, and further, its residents.

The film makes use of a great deal of fast-cut editing. Given the brooding nature of the film, this adds tension, unpredictability and a sense of malice.

While instantiating numerous themes, the film primarily tracks the effects which the absence of nuclear family has on various individuals psyches, particularly individuals from an unproductive and regressive socio-economic demographic. The use of the monolithic Red Road flats and the urban wasteland of urban Glasgow exemplify this theme well.

The films power lies in its characters, all of whom are suffering under some form of intense mental trauma. Not trauma in the cutesy, I-thought-my-friends-were-real A Beautiful Mind sense, but a violent and disturbing trauma - one which is constantly threatening to surface. Identifying the cause of the trauma will give you a big insight into the characters, as well as the main theme of the film.

Red Roads acting is solid, but the nihilistic and chaotic Stevie (Martin Compston) is a stand-out, while the antagonist Clyde (Tony Curran) swings between invoking utter disgust and genuine sympathy.

The apex of the film is an explicit sex scene, reminiscent of scenes from Austrian director Michael Haneke’s notorious and despairing film The Piano Teacher. Infact, shades of Haneke can be felt throughout the entire film, but Arnold seems to refrain from completely immersing herself in the Haneke-like meta-fictional dystopia. This scene has scope for interpretation, and has already caused debate. In an interview with The Guardian in late 2006, Arnold admitted being unsure herself of the semantics of this scene, arguing instead that one of the characters was determining the script, not her.

The soundtrack is peculiar, distressing, eerie, and understated. If Brian Eno was actually a minimalist, and suicidal, then perhaps he could compose something similar. But instead he is partying in Rio off the royalties from the latest Paul Simon album. The interesting aspect of the use of music in Red Road is that you are never really overtly aware of it, yet it is present and adding colour on a more sub-conscious level.

Red Roadhas a great deal of depth, but is let down by a phase (approx 20 mins) of the film which is moralistic and overly specific. It thus modulates from an intensely cerebral thriller into an obscure drama. For me, this ruined what could have been an excellent and otherwise very mature film. Also, Arnold opts for very specific explanations and a tying up of loose ends. This is inconsistent not only with the confused and disjointed aesthetic which most of Red Road has, but also with the dysfunctional nature of the characters.

However, this film is definitely worth seeing. Fans of the Dogme movement, Catherine Breillat, Michael Haneke, and even David Fincher, will be particularly impressed.

3/5

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