Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Red Road (Arnold, 2006)

Sitting in front of a bank of monitors, able to monitor suspicious activity all over the city, Jackie succumbs to the temptation that many of us would no doubt have if we found ourselves in the same position. She begins to use her pseudo-omniscience for personal ends. A man and a woman sneak away for a quick sexual encounter behind a city building, unaware of the camera fixed on their moment of supposed intimacy. Jackie watches quietly with interest and for a moment we suspect that she may even be aroused by what she sees. And then she sees the man’s face. She thinks it is someone from her past. As she moves her camera to follow her target, she loses him temporarily and settles briefly upon … a sly metaphor crossing the road and escaping into the night. What it is exactly, I will not reveal, but it effectively tells us what we need to know about the man that has captured Jackie’s attention. Or at least how she perceives him.

Jackie’s voyeuristic occupation keeps her at a safe distance from the general hubbub and bustle of the city. As we learn more about her past, we discover why this particular vocation would be especially desirable. Using modern technology, Jackie is able to help people to avoid trouble before it starts. And yet, we also see that there is a part of her that craves intimacy and companionship. She smiles warmly as she observes the old man walking his perpetually ailing dog and also at the cleaning lady dancing raucously in a room she thinks no one can see. She has illicit sexual encounters with a regular partner, but these trysts are about as personal as a regular check-up at the dentist. It is startling when she leaves her privileged position in order to take a more direct approach to the situation at hand. As much of the film consists of Jackie watching surveillance video, there is a great deal of silence. This is contrasted sharply with the loud Oasis sing-a-long at a party Jackie crashes for her own purposes. Is it because the party takes place at a position outside of the range of her camera’s view? Or perhaps it is because she cannot bear the idea that this man has the freedom to enjoy the company of friends and celebrate.

Red Road is the first in a trilogy of films by different directors tied together under the heading of Advance Party. Basically, the films will be tied together by a shared set of characters that have been created by Danes Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen. A set of rules has been crafted to guide the project; however, despite Lars von Trier’s apparent participation, this particular set of rules is decidedly non-dogmatic, asserting only that the films must take place in Scotland and that all characters must appear in all of the films and be played by the same actor throughout. It remains to be seen how Red Road will be informed , complemented, enhanced or contradicted by the two films to follow. However, as a stand-alone effort, it is a captivating, effective piece on the topic of pain, intimacy, revenge and healing.

In the lead role, Kate Dickie gives an extraordinary performance as a woman who is easily identifiable but ultimately somewhat difficult to wholeheartedly embrace. Jackie is a woman who both demands control and has difficulty maintaining it and Dickie smoothly and admirably navigates that contradiction. Director Andrea Arnold has the distinction of making her feature film debut already with an Oscar to her credit (for the short film, Wasp). Red Road shows that Arnold is likely to live up to that early promise. Her film offers a complicated and provocative portrait of a female protagonist without being overtly feminist. It is also bluntly sexual without being exploitative. After keeping up rapt in attention for the duration of her film, Arnold’s conclusion comes across as a bit too pat and tidy. Still, Red Road is successful at offering fresh perspectives and rhythms that may well be the harbingers of an extraordinary career.



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