Andrea Arnold’s second feature has blazed the trail in a similar way to her first, this one winning the Jury Prize (shared with Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst) at the Cannes Film Festival. It made its second public appearance at the Edinburgh Film Festival this weekend to an enthusiastic reception for the director and her actors who were there for the Q & A after the screening.
It’s familiar territory to the astonishing Red Road – high rise flats and desperate existences of the people within them and has the same poetic take on the social realist genre. However, before I lazily lock down an Arnold auteur style, this is a very different kind of film. And the problem with this blog entry is that I really don’t want to give anything away – and to say that I am really glad that I hadn’t read anything about the film before I saw it. This meant that the terrible and effective tension that built through the film, based on not knowing where the different elements of the story might lead, worked a treat to wrack your nerves. However, this was only because the performances from this tightly woven ensemble cast were completely convincing, even when the character themselves might have easily veered into a social realist stereotype. As someone astutely commented during the post-film Q&A session, Michael Fassbender doesn’t stand out despite his intense and charismatic performance and this said everything about the strength of the combined playing between all the actors.
Central to all of this – and destined to be singled out for praise – is the breakout performance by Katie Jarvis, as the gobby, aggressive fifteen year old daughter of a single mum. She’s everything of the frustrated, angry teenager who should/might repel but who entirely has you on her side, quickly, without having done anything that traditionally should gain your sympathy. Everything is conveyed through her body language and her dialogue without the need for clunky back story or exchanges between characters. It’s a brilliant performance. But so is the playing from the subsidiary characters (such as Kierston Wareing as mum or Harry Treadaway as Kyle) which do not see their limited screen time as needing them to over-emphasise their roles. Less is definitely more in this claustrophobic, unravelling piece.
Arnold discussed the great luxury she had of filming in narrative order for this film and said that, for the first time, she worked by giving the script piecemeal to the characters (both techniques that Ken Loach has used to create authenticity of performances). Jarvis was cast having been observed having a row with her boyfriend on a train platform, but she isn’t just being herself. She does give a real full-on performance of incredible nuance and sensitivity and she matches Fassbender’s quality in several key scenes, making them unbearably involving.
Arnold says (of awards pressure) that she concentrates on writing things that are personal to her – not in an autobiographical sense, but things that she feels strongly about, stories she wants to tell. That kind of authenticity really is a hallmark, the emotions radiate through the characters as they do so powerfully in Red Road and so that as in real-life experience) you know them, but don’t know what they might do. Honestly, go without reading anything.
The production team is worth examining – producers with eclectic and interesting backgrounds working with Peter Greenaway, Michael Winterbottom. There is Christine Langan – for her background, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2006/05_may/10/langan.shtml, another constant reminder of British television’s vital influence on the film industry. And also the UK Film Council. All these a reminder of the hand to mouth just-about sustainability of the British film industry.