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Andrea Arnold's debut holds up due to its depiction of intrusive surveillance, complete with a randy and vengeful woman behind the controls - live from Cannes

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM CANNES

Originally released in 2006, Red Road is a strangely prescient film to watch, largely because it outlined the presence of surveillance in British society. Some of the hardware has dated, but the themes – insecurity, imbalance and an intolerance for reclusion – is as pertinent in 2024 as it was 18 years ago. And so it begins with Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator who enjoys casual, albeit unfulfilling, sex with a married man. She spends her evenings spying on Scottish citizens, when she spots a couple in flagrante delicto. Aroused by the danger – the man thunders away at the woman with a ferocity that is absent from her lovelife – Jackie is shocked to see that the man is Clyde Henderson, a criminal who now resides in one of the Red Road flats.

She lies her way into a party, where she makes eye contact with Clyde, and she’s shocked to discover that the two of them share chemistry, leading to a sultry dance. From that point on, she continually follows – or cyber-stalks, depending on your definition – the reformed criminal, prompting him to ask her : “I think we’ve met before.”

As an exercise in taboo-busting, Red Road is something of a minor triumph. It cannily updates the stalker genre by putting the female gaze in control, while also adding a cyber element. Facebook was only two years old in 2006; and Twitter was just born. Jackie is free to pursue Clyde as she sees fit; like a lioness mounting a prime piece of meat. Jackie is portrayed by the sylphlike Kate Dickie, who brings dimensions to the character. She frumps over the computer at the beginning, before slowly transforming into the stoic, sexually confident woman who makes her move on Clyde. Dickie has a nude scene – and this is no spoiler – in which she gazes at her reflection, her hands touching her supple derriere. The scene is not gratuitous: it illustrates the self-confidence of the protagonist.

She harbours a dark secret behind the sprightly eyes. After reluctantly accepting an invitation to a wedding, she encounters the elderly Alfred (Andrew Armour), who avoids her piercing look in order to focus on his pint. There’s a tense discourse in there, one that is built on grief and regret. When Alfred returns to her house, he tells her that her life, like the garden outside the domicile, needs re-growing. She avoids his words, but the sentiment is as invasive as the cameras that showcase Clyde’s nefarious doings.

It’s a promising debut from Andrea Arnold, although she uses too excessive handheld, Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass, 2016) style camera, which is especially glaring during a pub punch-up. Those watching it on their laptops have the benefit of pausing the film to see Stevie (Martin Compston) level a punch at his “old-man”, but those seated in the cinema are may struggle to make out the shaky details. Jackie’s plan to frame Clyde is quixotic, but stands at odds with the crystal clearer axioms favoured by female-driven cinema since 2016.

The heart of the film lies in its depiction of technology: With the switch of a button, Jackie has the power to look at virtually anyone in Glasgow; regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. She spies Stevie and Clyde walking into a tavern, her purse in their hand. Dickie – easily the most committed actor in the film – lets out her stoniest expression, deciding to take action on the two men. But the minute she leaves her vessel of screens, she is surprised to see that her humanity is as prevalent as ever. A warning from Arnold to focus on day-to-day relations? Whatever the reading, Red Road is a work of narrative complexity.

Red Road just showed in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 77th Festival de Cannes, the very place where it premiered 18 years ago. The British director is present at the event in order to showcase her latest creation.


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