Red Road – Andrea Arnold – UK 2006 – Kate Dickie,
Viewed Tyneside Film Theatre 13 11 06 Ticket price £6-20
Twitching nets on desolation row = no mirrors
The film opens with dulled desaturated out of focus pictures beamed from the cctvs scattered around Glasgow into a control room where they are policed by Jackie. The world of surveillance that is established in the opening sequence doesn’t open up any ideas about multiple actualities or the nature of closed circuit realities: rather it closes down into one reality. In Red Road Andrea Arnold makes the monitor into a simple window, like the window of a house in a working class terrace behind which the wife spies on the street, unseen behind her twitching nets. It would have been more interesting if it had been more like a mirror…
In Red Road the monitors are a blind, a device to conceal the fact that this is an old type of story dressed up in modern techno wear with a fashionable backdrop of gritty lumpen dereliction. We can tell they that the TVs are not real monitors because their nature changes all the time: sometimes they deliver blurred indistinct images, sometimes they have the clarity of HDTV. The quality of image provided by the monitors is a function of the needs of the plot. The plot itself has a mechanical quality. As it develops it’s as if the script writer had used one of those models of psychological adaptation used by people like grief counsellors mapping the course of recovery from the trauma of loss or grief: charting the states of mind experienced by victims as they move from the inability to accept their situaiton, through to seeking revenge, through to acceptance and finally through to compassion. Such a model may be a useful guide to helping people with their grief or dieing as long as the model is understood simply as model. When it informs the shape of a script it gives the production a mechanical format and a lack of tension, de-energising the actors who are all sent down a one way street that is to lead from the beginning to the end of the story.
The effect of mechanical plotting is particularly constricting for the cast who have nowhere to go except where they’re told, no avenues to explore except those the director approves. For the actors the production turns into a game of pleasing(rather than challenging)the director with an appropriate performance note. I think there is a notion about their roles shared by many Brit directors that draws heavily on the auteur idea. There is a belief that the director is a sort of lone genius who has a vision that they struggle to get realised. The film comes to be seen as the sort of brave act of creation by a single person. In fact film is production by a collectivity. Every single person in the production has contribution, including of course the cast. The monopaced monochrome and monoexpressive performance of Kate Dickie belies the instructions of her director. The relationship between Dickie and Arnold looks on screen as if it’s too cosy too collusive as if the objective of the film was to tell the prearranged predetermined story not to make active film.
Red Road like many recent British films is desperate to claim an authenticity of place, a sort of legitimising carapace. The characterising look is desolate urban scapes at the centre of which is the eponymous Red Road high rise on Glasgow’s peripheral belt. But the use of the desolation settings is purely as backdrops, exploited for their production values. Red Road never becomes a world in its own right either mythic or actual. For a couple of sequences centred about the entry to the tower the film strains to overcome its realist stylistic frame: when Jackie enters the tower the tracking shots that comprise the sequence convey the atmosphere of a sort of fairy tale. The tower becomes a scary den of Wolf or Troll (Red Riding Hood?) which the heroine has to penetrate in order to obtain the precious treasure. The fairy tale aspect of the film in these sections is obviously an angle explored by the film, but it’s never developed and is dropped as quickly as it is taken up in favour of cod realism and the overdetermined nature of the narrative.
The plot, built around a revenge motif never develops sustained tension between its parts. This is not so much because it’s easy to guess the missing details that are laboriously patently and crudely withheld from the audience in order to try to give the story some narrative oppositions. The lack of tension is related to the direction itself, the choice made to make a certain sort of realist production and the way in which the film has been composed out of its series of set ups and shots. Arnold seems unable to sustain shots of any length that might have the energy to create their own temporal or spacial hold on the audience. The film sometimes looks like it has been desperately rescued in the edit. The cutting from shot to shot, the use of close up serves to direct the face of the audience to where the director believes we should be led. But the banality of - shot – reaction - shot - leaves the film bereft of edge and inventiveness.
The plot itself is a vehicle crippled by inconstancies and implausibility’s. Some of these highlight the discrepant elements in the film, the mythic subsumed by the realist,that conspire to work against each other. For instance when Jackie emerges from one visit to the high rise she goes to catch her bus back home. As she climbs aboard to pay the driver she realises that she has lost her purse. She fumbles in bag and pockets and realising she hasn’t the money to pay for her ticket asks to be carried for free. At this point the film loses its plot. The loss of her purse is glossed over by Jackie, who reacts to the event by ignoring its significance. A purse isn’t just any personal appurtenance. It is the most deeply personal, containing the core of identity being and sexuality. When you return from the troll’s den and discover that you’ve left your purse behind this is an event that changes everything that puts something within you at risk. To dismiss the loss as an unfortunate accident is a sign that in service to the demands and machinations of the script, you have left your film behind. And perhaps your soul. The only function of the incident is to set up later sequences in the film.
Red Road feels like a film that is constantly falling between stools, wanting to have everything all ways. It wants to be a little bit mythic in its story but it mostly wants to be realist. A sort of mixture of Cocteau and Ken Loach. It wants its heroine finally to be a good woman and do the right thing; it wants its villain to be ultimately a good man. Everyone in the end is good and does the right thing. Red Road ends up like bland TV programme trying to please everyone. Somewhere withinin the genesis of the film is a strong idea seeking expression that is never realised.
adrin neatrour - firstname.lastname@example.org