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The slowly unravelling character and background of a CCTV operator form
the plot of this gripping and unsettling, low-budget, yet very
professionally made film. Jackie's job is to watch the feed from closed
circuit cameras sited in the less desirable areas of Glasgow (including
a street called Red Road), and liaising with the police where possible
to help track or prevent crime. She's a dour Scots lass who gives
little away, and we build up a picture of her life very efficiently in
the first few varied and colourful short scenes - her working life, her
social life, her sex life and (at the edge of it) her family life.
She starts to follow an ex-con who she recognises on the cameras, eventually ingratiating herself into his life. We are kept in the dark for a very long time as to her motives and simply feel an insidious, creeping tension as she takes risks. That we become so glued to what she is up to is a great credit to the skillful characterisation and acting. It's one of those films where, if you want to feel the full impact of the surprises, the less you know about the story the better. The title maybe also suggests a path of sexual tension and danger that the protagonist feels she has to follow. The final denouement brings a surprise emotional enlightenment. If you dislike independent film-making or are averse to explicit sex, avoid Red Road; otherwise make a bee-line to see one of the most original and capable films to come out of Scotland.
Delving into the world of CCTV also opens up other questions. Britain has a very high deployment of CCTV - according to one estimate, the average Briton is recorded by CCTV cameras 300 times a day (director Andrea Arnold says in an interview that twenty per cent of all the CCTV cameras in the world are in Britain) - and there are also concerns about privacy and abuse. The film doesn't argue for or against - it seems realistic - but in portraying 'a face that watches the footage' it allows us to picture what it is maybe like on the other side of the camera when we form our ideas about the social dilemmas.
Although Red Road has been roundly praised, it is not immediately clear why it is so successful. There is very little substantive action for a long time and little of the obvious attention grabbers such as violence or heavy romance. Although it seems to be directed on a very tight leash, part of the credit no doubt should also go to Lone Scherfig (characterisation is done in part by Scherfig as collaborator), and with whose background there is a discernible connection.
Danish Director Scherfig rose to fame with Italian for Beginners, one of the successful films to be made under the strict discipline of the austere Dogme95 rules. While Red Road uses little of the formal laws of the back-to-basics Dogme system, the lessons learnt are evident: a lack of intrusive background music, no superficial action or definable genre, and so on. The reliance is on the characters themselves, and in working in the development of the Red Road characters Scherfig's genius is shining through. We feel, just as we did in her Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, that the people have just walked off the streets of Glasgow (or are still walking about on them). This style of realism is also discernible in the first British Dogme film, Gypo, released about the same time as Red Road, and together they form almost a new thread in British cinema. Whatever the reasons or antecedents, Red Road is a film of remarkable ingenuity aimed at an intelligent adult audience.
The background to the creation of Red Road is that it forms part of a project called Advance Party. Scherfig and her collaborator, in accordance with the experiment, presented the fully fledged characters to director Andrea Arnold who then wrote the plot around them. They have a life of their own instead of being altered to fit a storyline. The creative genius behind the idea, as with Dogme, is Lars von Trier. In the hands of Oscar-winning director Arnold, we again see art and new creative processes forcing their head through the much-abused medium of cinema.
I saw "Red Road" at Cannes, and it was my pick as best film almost to
the end, beaten out only by "Pan's Labyrinth". The film keeps you off
balance throughout because you are not told what to think of events;
they simply unfold without explanation until the events themselves
necessitate dialogue between the two main characters. Not knowing
becomes rather vexing because you are always trying to figure out why
the protagonist does so much that you feel is wrong, but it's all just
part of the fun. And the kind of storytelling I enjoy most. It reminded
me of "Exotica", another film I loved. Too, the faces of the actors are
relatively unfamiliar which adds to the mystery, since they carry no
"baggage" from previous films to the characters.
There doesn't seem to be a distributor connected to this movie yet, and we'd really lose out if it doesn't get to the U.S.
Lead actors were very convincing and natural, I'm guessing a few of the small parts were played by non actors which i love and thought it added even more authenticity, the inner city settings and photography were gritty and real, an area which had obviously been excluded in so many ways and that grim reality was truly captured by the film. Story kept me guessing all the way through which i like, i did think i had the plot figured out at one point but i was way off the mark. Loved the general pace of the story and the fact that the script was so honest and uncompromising. I also enjoyed the more general theme of our living in a society in which we are being watched constantly without our knowledge and the privacy questions that generates. Highly recommended.
I saw the trailer of this a few weeks ago and some of the mysterious
and bleak nature of the shorts clips prompted that little voice inside
me, saying " you won't be comfortable with it, but see it." I wasn't
and I did.
The plot unravels slowly with little hints as to its central theme dotted about sensitively. It has you asking the question, what has happened to Jackie? How does this figure Clyde she has recognised and recoiled from on the CCTV monitors at work impacted on her lonely and monochrome life ? The answers come quite slowly as she puts her head into the lion's jaws of proximity to this danger man. A bit like the pantomime responses I felt like saying, " No, don't go any closer,he's behind you; you'll be recognised.", failing to recognise myself that something in her wants exactly that. In fact she receives from him perversely, what no viewer might possibly expect, but then she has us asking, is this payback time ? I'm not telling you, see the film ! The unfinished business Jackie has with Clyde is what this film is about.
The raw,down-at-heel, desperate, littered, high rise and windy Glasgow streets and housing estates as the backdrop. Ordinary everyday people get on with their lives oblivious of the drama being enacted in Jackie's life and culminating in an protracted showdown. But this is not the end. No, for all the unresolved grief, anger, erotic fascination and damaged lives, there remains a hope born of the unlikely. The film leads you away from the possibility, but ultimately there is life after death in Red Road. No cheering music soundtrack intrudes to romanticise what cannot possibly yield to only to the mawkish. There is just silence, sounds of the street, machinery, public transport and some well chosen tracks to create mood when required. This is what the vintage among us identify as continental cinema, no wonder they loved it at Cannes. This is not a film for audiences to remain detached from; the sheer intimacy of the camera work and the evolving personal destinies involved get you involved too, uncomfortably. A home grown vignette of humanity wrestling with the s..t that regularly happens !
Produced in collaboration with Lars von Trier's production house
Zentropa and based on characters created by Lone Scherfig and Anders
Thomas Jensen, this debut feature by Oscar-winning Andrea Arnold is the
first British feature filmed under the rigid Dogma-principles. I guess
I'll never become a big fan of Dogma-style film-making, but I must
admit, this was a well-structured and ultimately intriguing piece of
film-making, if you can make it to the final half hour, when part of
the story is resolved and some sorely needed background information is
We meet a woman (Kate Dickie) who works as a CCTV operator, obsessively observing the residents in a run-down housing estate in Glasgow. She seems obsessed by her work, compensating for her non-existent social life. Most of the story revolves around a dire housing estate, a huge 25-floor tower, on Red Road, from which the film got its title. On day, when she zooms in on a man having some back-alley sex with a young woman, she recognizes him and starts tracking his every move on camera, but in real life as well, even insinuating herself into his life, going to his apartment and even attending a party he's giving. Obviously, she has some shared experience from the past with this man. At first, it seems an ex-husband/boyfriend, but soon it becomes obvious he doesn't know her, apart from a vague recollection, "haven't I seen you somewhere before?" Who is he and foremost, what on earth could this woman possibly want from him? The film keeps you guessing till the very end. Perhaps a bit too long. For almost 90 minutes you keep wondering why the hell she goes through all this trouble meeting this mysterious fellow. Till then we're fishing in the dark.
The film is greatly bolstered by two extremely convincing performances. Kate Dickie commits herself to this role with such vigour, her every move comes off completely believable, despite her motivations are hard to understand, while Tony Curran's performance ranges from very frightening to even touching at times. It's interesting enough to keep watching, but only just, till the end, when the elements fall in place. The prominence of CCTV surveillance in the film and how far it has penetrated Britons everyday lives (and increasingly in other parts of the world as well), is quite revealing and disturbing as well. Since a large part of the film consists of CCTV-images and is strained by Dogma-rules in the first place, the images are not always pleasing for the eye. But some beautifully shot night scenes around Red Road-estate and the two powerhouse performances by the leads largely make up for some shortcomings in the film's narrative.
Camera Obscura --- 7/10
I just saw this film in the European Cinema Festival of Sevilla. What
took me to see it was the fact that it was shot in Glasgow. Also I had
heard that Lars Von Triers had something to do with it. So that made up
The film involves you, and makes you feel closer and closer to the protagonist. Nevertheles, the spectator does not know the relationship between the protagonist and the man she has discovered through the CCTV. The mystery gets solved as the film goes on, and the tension is well kept throughout the film. This is not (only) a thriller, it is a drama full of realism, with all its crudeness and no false extremes with regards to good ones and evil ones. The interpretations by the actors are truly brilliant. I don't see that "that" sex scene is so crude, I think it is very naturalistic. There are scenes in the film that seem very crude to me, but won't tell in order not to spoil anything. I highly recommend this film!
An intimate and moving portrayal of characters both devastated and
desperate. Performances are very subtle, yet brimming with emotion, so
much so that some scenes are really quite uncomfortable to watch.
Direction is also brilliant and the low budget restrictions really do
not show. Also a very successful portrayal of the way many people in
Glasgow live. I am very excited about the next two in the trilogy, as
there were strong hints of very interesting stories accompanying the
supporting characters. This film is so full of emotion that i just hope
that people around the world don't come to think that Glasgow could be
the most dreich place in the world.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
** No specific spoilers, but I discuss the narrative shape, and hint at
some plot elements.** This film comes on as a psychological suspenseful
mood-piece, but delivers all too much dark mood and not enough
psychological insight. I was rooting for Red Road for a while-I liked
the dread and creepy voyeurism (in a rough part of Glasgow). But I felt
the film, despite its earnest attempt to deal with a woman's grief, was
fairly banal. And, more importantly, it does not integrate the two
biggest plot elements thematically.
The film doles out small bits of information about why Jackie is disturbed and begins to track Clyde, a recently-released criminal, and to misuse some of her powers as a tracker. This works well for a while, but then gets a bit tedious.
Disappointingly, the use of surveillance is not united with any larger thematic concern. For a film which begins steeped in the technology of watching and recording--even quotidian doings come to seem ominous-the surveillance aspect is part of entirely personal plot, with very little wider cultural implications. This may be because the UK has more surveillance than the U.S., so the filmmaker was simply using it as a given, whereas in the US it would generate more societal questions (though the use of cameras is surely growing in the US).
The other big thematic problem is why Jackie chooses her particular form of revenge. It's an extremely provocative choice, but it's not tied to what happened in the past. Again, her personal reasons (her loneliness, her revulsion/attraction to a dangerous but compelling guy) are interesting, but her technique is a culturally relevant issue which the film has nothing to say about.
As Clyde, Tony Curran has haunting moments. His physicality, even the way he walks, is a memorable portrait of a man caught between studly swagger, haunted emptiness and attempted recovery. As Jackie, Kate Dickie has a tougher task, playing the repressed pain but hinting at someone capable of inflicting revenge. But she's good too.
In the end, though, it was not enough for me to like this film. The movie feels rather small, and a not-too-original spin on other films which have dealt with similar matters.
- A female cctv operative discovers in the course of her work that a
criminal has been released from jail early for good behaviour. She
takes a very personal interest in him..-
That rare thing. A superb British movie. Set in an unremittingly bleak Glasgow focused on a multi-storey housing estate in the East End of that city, this is NOT the usual kitchen-sink or slice-of-life telly-style drama that nearly always make a disheartening prospect for cinema-going. This is a complex character-driven piece, beautifully shot and edited. Scenes are allowed space and time to breathe in their own life. It never tells the audience what to think, how to feel, or even what's going on. Yet ultimately the movie tells of a struggle against loss and grief and there is a redemptive quality which is hard-won by the director. The surveillance aspect is brilliantly handled by mixing in low-res grainy footage of surveyed scenes scanning and zooming in on actual streets (and some of the locals) and allowing the audience to figure out what is going on along with the operative. It suggested a knee-jerk parallel with Haneke's Cache (Hidden), but this a completely different take more closely paralleling Coppola's 'The Conversation' and suggesting that the effects of surveillance may be more acutely felt by the observer than the observed. The acting by the entire cast is pitch-perfect. The highly explicit sex scene is, for once, completely warranted and the sexual tension in the relationship is reminiscent of Roeg's 'Bad Timing'. But this is a film which gains a lot of power by being deeply-rooted in its time and place and doesn't need to look back. Utterly assured and contemporary, like 'Morvern Callar', it is very much what is happening NOW. And whenever the journalistic blah about a boom in Scottish film inevitably subsides, the country will be left with something more potent than bloody 'Gregory's Girl' as a benchmark for what can be achieved with a small-scale budget and Scottish/Scotland-based directors.
I saw the North American premiere of Red Road on Sept 14, 2006 at the
Isabel Bader Theatre during the Toronto International Film Festival.
This was extremely well made for a first time feature and the story line packed quite a few wallops on the way. It is a slow build up so just be patient, there'll be plenty of shocks to come and it is quite a while before all the pieces fall into place.
It was a very original idea and story by Andrea Arnold using the characters imposed on her by the limitations of a new Dogme-like film rule called Advance Party. 2 more films are set to come using the same lead characters and actors but in entirely different contexts. All of them must take place in Scotland according to the rules.
Director Andrea Arnold was there for the North American premiere and led a lively and humorous Q&A at the end that included the somewhat chilling statistics that the UK has over 4 million CCTVs or 1 for every 14 people and that overall they have 20% of the CCTVs in operation on the entire planet.
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