22 April 2011

Andrea Arnold's Red Road (2006)

Andrea Arnold's first feature film Red Road is part of the three-movie project Advance Party, of which the other two are Donkeys by Morag McKinnon (which, like Red Road, is also set in Glasgow and premiered in Edinburgh last year) and a work by Mikkel Nørgaard, about which almost nothing seems to be known as yet. Advance Party stipulates that several named characters be used in each movie, and that the actors remain the same, although they can have an important or minor part,  and different back stories and different relationships from the other two movies in the project.

Red Road was filmed in north-east Glasgow, mainly in the Red Road area (including inside the Broomfield Tavern), and on Saracen Street. Kate Dickie (as Jackie Morrison) gives a superlative performance as the surveillance officer who works the CCTV console and sometimes laughs at the sights she sees - such as an office cleaner dancing to her personal stereo as she empties trash cans, or an middle-aged man attending to his old bulldog - although she is normally alert to any trouble in this rather grim area of Glasgow.

We know nothing of the characters' history and must just wait while the plot unravels. For instance, we are unaware initially of Jackie's past, only that she lives alone and wears a wedding ring, but has orgasmless, expressionless sex in the front seat of her married friend Avery's van every few weeks. What pulls her up sharp is when she sees a man take a young woman behind a garage and have sex against a wall. Although this is even somewhat more sleazy than the van, Jackie is visibly moved, her hand tightens on her leg, and she rather obviously caresses the joystick on her console as the young woman enjoys her orgasm: clearly, this is very different from her experiences with Avery.

But when Jackie sees the face of the man, who is later discovered to be Clyde Henderson (played by Martin Compston), she begins stalking him both via the CCTV cameras, and in the outside world: to the Red Road flats. (There is an echo of Arnold's short movie 'Wasp' when Nathalie Press (as April this time) is again seen in a filthy kitchen, where she tips the contents of a dog food can directly onto the floor.) The viewer doesn't know why Jackie is stalking Clyde: this will only be revealed slowly, when we learn how her life as a wife and a mother has been ruined. 

This is a powerful thriller, with an amazingly incongruously loving sex scene, violent menace often close to the surface, and fully convincing characters complete with contradictions. This is not social comment, but it sure is great movie making.

Red Road flats are (very soon were) real enough - five huge towers and two huge 'slabs' were built in the 1960s in Barmulloch, Glasgow, and are now under demolition. A website containing text and photos of their history and a great deal of other information about them is

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