Red Road - dir. Andrea Arnold - 2006 - Denmark/UK
When writing about film, the writer must come to terms with the idea that he or she can often demystify the art of film with their own words. Demystification, or even the literary expression of mystification, can take its reader, and potential film-viewer, out of the realms of the magic of cinema. Some individuals, myself included, prefer to not read about a film before seeing it, but even that proves difficult as one must have some idea of the nature of the film before embarking upon it. With Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, I had the complete pleasure of knowing nothing, aside from its win of the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes film festival and its casting of My Summer of Love’s Natalie Press, an actress I’ve made note to seek out. If you wish to quit reading here (which I may recommend if you haven’t seen the film), remember this: Red Road is possibly the most fascinating, suspenseful, and brilliantly-crafted film I’ve seen in a great while, and as I cared for the film so strongly, I might suggest blindly walking into it for you likely won’t be sorry.
With the stated praise above, I must confess that Red Road isn’t the out-of-nowhere masterpiece I truly desired. Its suspense buildup is so palpable and unnerving that, really, any resolution would have been a disappointment. Though I doubt similarities have been discussed at any length, Red Road has a lot in common with Michael Haneke’s Caché. Both films take a similar perspective in their treatment of voyeurism. Jackie (the amazing Kate Dickie) works surveillance in Scotland, patrolling the streets of her town from a video desk, seemingly detached from the action that transpires on her screens. That is, of course, until a familiar man emerges from the shadows that makes Jackie snap.
Both Red Road and Caché place the viewer in the same position. The films contain a fiery secret that lies within their central characters, one that neither wish to utter, even as things begin to get dirty. In Caché, Georges’ (Daniel Auteuil) secret escapes in an argument with his concerned wife (Juliette Binoche), but it’s the ramifications and underlying darkness that remain unspoken. In Red Road, our secret is buried deep inside Jackie. Other characters hint toward it, but Arnold realizes that this secret only belongs to her and that an explanation from anyone else would have been cheap. The secret leaks about three-fourths of the way through the film, with alarming results. As stated above, the intensity and trepidation of Red Road could never be matched by the unveiling of its secret, unless, of course, the secret was never uttered, yet what's wrong with the uttering of the secret is that there's so little more to dissect or examine once it's on full display. Failure on the part of Arnold to correspond her suspense with the film’s outcome cannot be wholly blamed on her, for Red Road is the first installment of an experiment created by the Danes. Lars Von Trier, Anders Thomas Jensen (The Green Butchers), and Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) selected Arnold as the first director of their Advance Party trilogy, in which the same actors, characters, and location will be examined by three first-time filmmakers. I have no word on what the second installment will entail, but it seems highly unlikely that it could match the brooding craftsmanship that Arnold (a previous Academy Award winner for her short Wasp) displays with Red Road.
Regardless of its faults, Red Road remains on the short list of the finest films released in the US this year. Whether you find yourself played the fool with Red Road’s conclusion or find it the emotional satisfaction the film needs, the film is still undeniably fascinating. Dickie, in her first film, is consistently amazing throughout the film’s change in tone. Arnold’s talent, in her feature debut, bleeds all over the screen, similar to fellow Scotswoman Lynne Ramsay, whose first feature Ratcatcher was equally enthralling. If you ended up reading past the disclaimer I used for the film, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The demystification of Red Road already existed within the film itself, and the way I’ve chosen to write about it could still provide the visceral ecstasy I felt throughout the first three-fourths of the film. Hopefully, you can feel it too.