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Road rules

Andrea Arnold takes on Lars von Trier
By GERALD PEARY  |  May 8, 2007

ADVANCE(D) FILMMAKING: Arnold triumphed over Trier’s restrictions.

Dogme is out, done for, as are Lars von Trier’s sly strictures on making Dogme films: only natural lighting, the actors must wear their real clothes, etc. But Trier’s Copenhagen-based Zentropa Company is not through with such trickster challenges. Producing with Sigma, a Scottish production company, it’s come back with fresh impediments and obstacles, under the name the Advance Party. Three promising young filmmakers — one Scottish, one Danish, one English — agreed, in exchange for financing, to abide by the Advance Party rules. Among these, as set out in a five-page document: all three films would include the same seven characters, each given a compact, vivid description, as in “a girl who smoked, had two bags, arrived from nowhere.” The seven characters would be played by the same seven actors, who’d be chosen by the directors at a joint casting session.

Which film would be shot first? The English director, Andrea Arnold, volunteered to start. Her main character was to be “cool, aloof, something terrible had happened in her past, she had an affair with a married man in two weeks.” Arnold also was required to shoot in Scotland, a country she didn’t know. After driving around Glasgow, she arrived at the creepy, arresting story that became Red Road, a taut melodrama that premiered at Cannes 2006. The “cool, aloof” character with a spooky, traumatic past is Jackie (Kate Dickie), a CCTV operative in Glasgow who one day spies on a guy named Clyde (Tony Curran) and begins to follow him. It seems he did something hurtful at an earlier juncture in her life and now she’s after him.

So, what was that something? Arnold: “I didn’t want for you not to know what’s happening for such a long time in the movie. It’s more mysterious than it was meant to be. Some of the financiers said it would be better to know early on, then you’d have more empathy for Jackie. But I resisted: I wanted the audience to watch the way Jackie watched, and make assumptions about Clyde. Is he a pedophile? A serial killer? At the end, the audience is usually wrong.”

We had our conversation in unusual circumstances: in the back of a bus touring through rural Iceland, where we both were guests of the Reykjavík Film Festival last September. She explained that she’d been approached to participate in the Advance Party project after her Oscar-winning short, “Wasp,” was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Although she was allowed to shoot anywhere in Scotland, including stately Edinburgh, she opted for the run-down, crime-ridden Red Road housing project in Glasgow. “I’m sure the Glasgow press will ask, ‘Why did you show Glasgow looking like such shit?’ But the Red Road flats exist in every spot in the world. Actually, it’s the friendliest bloody place I’d ever been to, even though everyone had knives.”

People who see the movie want to talk about the CCTV surveillance. There seem to be hidden cameras everywhere in Glasgow. It’s true, Arnold noted, and the same in her home city. “If you’re in London, you’re on TV 300 times a day. Why in Britain do we have so many cameras — 20 percent of the cameras in the world?”

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