Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema on February 20th.
Review by: Larry Thomas
It’s always heartening to see a filmmaker hit it big with a short film, and then move into features. That’s what happened with British director Andrea Arnold. In 2003, she won the Academy Award for her live action short film WASP. Three years later she was able to complete her first feature-length dramatic film called Red Road, which is now making its way to our town for a short run this week.
Jackie is surveillance professional for City Eye Control, a security company that watches the dodgier parts of Glasgow, Scotland through a maze of cameras, and then reports any miscreants to the police. Although performing a public and legal service, this job tends to make her a licensed voyeur. As we all might, when its slow Jackie watches certain people in her area, and it’s obvious that she wonders about them and their lives.
Jackie is not a particularly happy person. Most viewers will deduce that she lives alone even though she wears a wedding ring, has an occasional tryst with a married co-worker, and is harboring a deep hurt from her past. Then one day while keeping tabs on the locals, a chance camera shot reveals someone she never thought she’d have to deal with again. It’s a jolting experience, and she carefully formulates a plan of action.
This is not Death Wish. It’s a deliberately paced tale that is reminiscent of the films of Michael Haneke, such as CACHE, with a touch of Hitchcock thrown in for good measure. Red Road is an exploration into emotional pain, and how this seemingly ordinary woman copes with all that’s been heaped on her shoulders. Nothing is spelled out to make it easy for you. Assumptions must be made, conclusions drawn, and imagination used. And while most of us are aware that two wrongs don’t make a right, that simple moral makes for intriguing filmmaking.
It’s a very low-budget item, probably shot on digital video then transferred to film, giving it a grainy look. The slum areas of Glasgow seem cleaner than they probably are, but are still grimy enough to convey the hardscrabble life of ex-cons and street people. The sparse dialogue comes with many profanities, but also conveniently has subtitles to cover the Scottish brogue. This is a wonderful idea for films from the British Isles that are thick with local accents, and accelerates the enjoyment of the story.
The cast of unknowns is quite convincing in their roles and convey the necessary emotions to suit the characters.
One caveat about Red Road: if you are squeamish about explicit sex, this may not be the film for you. There is one encounter near the end that is quite graphic, not gratuitous, but emotionally necessary to the plot.
In 2006, Red Road won the top five awards of the Scottish BAFTAs (their equivalent to the Oscar) for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress.