Saturday, 4 December 2010

Red Road

I cannot remember, if before today, I watched the same film, end to end. The film which merited this attention is called Red Road, an independently created and released film in 2007 which was commended at Cannes and is said to have received two awards from the independent sector.

Later tonight first of the 2009 awards take place, Golden Globes and I am in broad agreement with the nominations in relation to those films which I have seen. The Reader has a best picture nomination and Kate Winslet best support actress, a nonsense category given that she is the lead actor of the films, but she has also be nominated as best actress for Revolutionary Road, on my must see list but she up against Meryl Streep in Doubt, also on my list. Meryl is also nominated in new category this year’s best musical/comedy, for her performance in Mama Mia which should also take the award for best musical/comedy film. Interestingly In Bruges is included in this category along with Vicky Christina Barcelona, another on the must see list. I mention this ladies all meriting the awards for which they have been nominated, because of the performance of Kate Dickie, previously a TV actress in her film debut as the principal subject of Red Road, also merits an Oscar if they do.

Red Road is a film about grief and loss. Here in the North East within the last year a young man mounted the pavement in his vehicle and killed and woman and her child. There was also a news report of woman who crashed into a pram killing a baby by a school entrance. Individual accidents which destroy the lives of the survivors in an instant, also the lives of the perpetrator. Red Road is about one such situation.

Kate plays Jackie, a woman in her early thirties who works as a professional watcher for a company providing close circuit television monitoring, in his instance for the authorities. It was this aspect which attracted my attention and the reason for placing the DVD on my wish to see list,

I have visited two close circuit TV units my lifetime. One was that in use at St James Park, Newcastle United Football Club, where eight operative sit and two banks of screens with recorders and where the camera can be trained on individual seats and what happens recorded in close up if necessary. The cameras monitor what is happening within the stadium and also its immediate environs. The second occasion was an operate run but a private security firm made available to commercial firms and to the civic authorities. Even though individuals are aware of the existence of CCTV in public places and outside commercial the inhibited behaviour of some is amazing. However the purpose of the cameras is to help prevent crime and assist in its detection. One aspect of my work and what I believe about contemporary art is that everything we do and say can be viewed recorded and edited with or without our knowledge and consent by anyone, anywhere with the technology.

Jackie is someone whose experience has become governed by the lives of other people as she has become locked in to the moment when he husband and daughter were killed by a man high on crack whose vehicle drove in tot he bust stop where they were standing.

Jackie is not devoid of emotion, the opposite in the situation as she shows emotional concern for a man whose dog has become ill and is evidently reaching the end of days. Seeing a young girl sitting on the pavement late one night she immediately alerts the police concerned at the plight of the young woman and she alerts the authorities again when she fears another young woman is about to be attacked, apologising of the false alarms and then mesmerised as the couple have sex. She also has sex, almost a routine, detached from the event, with a male colleague in his vehicle in some deserted spot

Her father in law calls one day to beg for the ashes of their son to be buried, or cast, so his parents are able to finish their mourning and have somewhere special to remind them of him. Jackie cannot let go and the following night takes the ashes into bed with her. Jackie monitors Red Road a depressed area north of Glasgow which includes a large tower block of flats which has been done up in bright colours on the outside but where the lifts continue to tell the tale of the lives of the dispossessed, the underclass.

One day she thinks she has sent the destroyer of her family and her life on the CCTV although he is not due for release for several years. His release for good behaviour is confirmed and she sets out to find where he lives, where he works, and everything that he does breaking the rule of her employment. She even borrows the station of colleague to tracks his movements and this includes speaking to a school girl outside her school..

Many of those watching the film for first time may have difficulty in picking up what is said and what is communicated as the actors speak in the natural local brogue. I know some critics have challenged the authenticity of the sequence which builds up to the climax of this film. I understanding their viewpoint but they are wrong, failing to appreciate a number of factors in this particular situation.

First there is Scottish working class identity which I first experienced during the month I spent in Glasgow in 1961 including a week on an outlying estate, travelling about the city on buses. Working class identity has been eroded in England with the closure of the major industries and manufacturing occupations which once dominated and bound entire communities together and menial jobs taken over by transient work migrants from central Europe as well as economic new life migrants from former colonies. Thatcherism and Blairism has systematically undone most of the framework which gave communities their identity, this is not so for areas of central Scotland because of the sense of Skittishness which unites everyone regardless of their social and economic status. The average highlander has nothing in common with the average resident of Red Road except their sense of Skittishness and their common tribal defensiveness.

Secondly there is the impact on the individual of being a professional voyeur and being part of the professional voyeurs club. You have licence to intrude into the lives of others and have the control and potential power of the stalker. The impact is no different to that of all those who work on the front line of many similar activities for longer that the human personality is cut out for.

But most importantly there the impact of the gnawing pain of the loss of the two people who made your life, the outrage felt when the perpetrator who cannot look you in the eye at the trial not only walks freely out of prison without serving the full term but is immediately able to get on with life, with friends, parties and lovers, work and a home.

The combination of these things together with the personality of Jackie the character and Kate the actress deliver a real experience in which the audience is allowed to be the voyeur. Those who are uncomfortable with this reality will be uncomfortable with this film which it designed to make you feel uncomfortable as well as more enlightened.

It is Jackie the badly damaged victim bordering on the irrevocable who becomes the stalker. She watches as he goes to work and phones his employers with the news he is an ex convict seeking to have him sacked. She also watches, getting a colleague to give her control of his station while the man speaks to a school girl outside of school, and only later to find out it his daughter. Jackie tracks him to the cafe where eats meals out and touches up the waitress an action which appears familiar to her. Jackie gatecrashes a party at the flat shared with a mate and his girlfriend and later calls with the gift of a bottle of whiskey but he is out so during a drink with his flatmates as she learns the name of the pub they frequent and seeing them enter one night she fixes immediate cover to join the trio and this enables her to achieve the plan which involves sex. But while everything was clear in her head beforehand, what she was doing and why, she quickly realises she has no control over the reality.

The killer in her head is not the man now facing her. He is someone who knows what he has done, losing his wife as a consequence of going to prison and having no contact with his daughter whose childhood he has missed and who no longer knows him or appears to want to know him. He is also good at sex and arouses her in way no one has done for many years or perhaps ever. When she abruptly departs he is shocked and hurt but she needs to quickly leave to smear herself with semen from the condom he used, to cut her own cheek and to tear her own clothing before calling police where she will be treated with kindness and belief because she is almost one of their own.

She watches him being arrested and also his daughter visiting afterwards to find he has been taken away again. It is not clear if it this or the visit from the flat mate at home which brings her to admitting to herself that she has become the criminal, he and his daughter the victim and then decides to withdrawal the charge. She is able then to confront him and get him to tell what happened and how quickly it was over for her loved ones and this has the impact of being able to visit his parent and suggest they scatter the ashes at Loch Lomond a place that he loved. She is able to walk Red Road with light heart once more and greets the man who has a new and healthy dog for company. The brilliance of the picture is that you are immediately drawn into seeing Red Road a s a place for depressed and alienated people but at the end of the film you also it is place with a vibrant communicating able to have a good time despite their poverty

This is the first of a trilogy by first time directors funded by the British Film Council and various creative film interest groups and won several awards for Andrea Arnold the Director who in 2004 won an Oscar for best short film. Her further work is awaited.

Denise Schwartz a regular O.F.C.S reviewer highlights that the overwhelming mood which gets under the skin as few films The Spirituality and Practice due of the Brussat’s make the point that the film is a good portrait of the potential loneliness of the urban city dwellers. Rich Cline, another regular makes the point that the film is “ sharp, bravely shocking film that dares to cross lines mainly in areas of voyeurism, grief and harsh sexual politics.” My point is that what is shocking is that so many of the critics lives in their own insulated cultured and comfortable world that they think this is shocking or revelatory when in it is a simple statement of the reality for millions all over the world.

There was one shock during the night, more for Kate Winslet than for me as the reason for the nomination as Best Support actress in drama when she was clearly the lead actor in the film The |Reader, became apparent as she not only won the award in this category but also the award for best actress in a drama for her performance in Revolutionary Road. Clearly the judges felt both roles merited an award which would not have been possible in the same category. I was also thrilled that Colin Farrell got the award for male actor in a comedy music for his performance in In Bruges, Bearing in mind that the awards are made by the Foreign press association in the USA it is not surprising that the balance is towards overseas artists and while everyone appears to agree that Slumdog is a great film and the praise has nothing to do with it being shot in Mumbia, the scene of the recent terrorism I could not help feeling that the naming of a film from Israel s the best foreign language film of the year was intended as a loud message to the Muslim and Arab world.

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