- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

English writer-director Andrea Arnold made her debut feature, “Red Road,” largely following the strictures of the Dogme 95 school started by Lars von Trier. Everything is filmed on location; the action is captured with hand-held cameras through natural light; there’s little music and no “superficial action.” It is a taut piece of filmmaking.

Even with the restraint, “Red Road” manages to be a slowly revealed character study, a tense thriller and a moving drama.

It’s also the best film of the year so far.

Jackie (stage actress Kate Dickie in her screen debut) spends her days as a CCTV (closed-circuit television) monitor. From her perch in the City Eye control room, she watches the neighborhoods of Glasgow, alerting police when she sees anything amiss.

Being Big Brother might seem a humorless job, but Jackie takes delight in watching the tender moments of her fellow Scots. Her face lights up as she spies on a cleaning woman dancing in a quiet office building.

Surveillance is about as close as Jackie gets to connecting with other human beings. She doesn’t seem to have friends, and the hand wearing a wedding ring doesn’t come home at night to hold another. Her irregular trysts with a married man are perfunctory, not passionate.

We slowly come to understand that Jackie is still reeling from some unnamed trauma that’s taken her family from her. Seeking comfort, she climbs into bed with two urns of ashes. Even this small pleasure is a source of pain — her father-in-law is angry that she won’t allow the remains to be buried in a spot where everyone can pay their respects.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jackie is susceptible to obsession. One night at work, she recognizes a man on camera. He seems to be connected in some way to Jackie’s ordeal. She starts out watching him when he appears on her screen, but soon she’s switching shifts to follow him, and it’s not long before she cannily inserts herself into his life for real.

“I’ve had this feeling that I’ve met you before,” Clyde (Tony Curran, “The Good German”) tells her at the pub. “But I can’t work it out.”

One of the pleasures of Miss Arnold’s fiercely intelligent debut is how her pacing, first luxuriously unhurried, then gripping and swift, draws us into the mystery and keeps us there even after it’s all but explained.

This character piece is also a thriller, so there’s very little talk of thoughts and feelings. There doesn’t have to be: They’re right on-screen for us voyeurs, courtesy of some incredibly self-possessed acting from the entire cast.

With her angular good looks and complete control of the cameras following her, Miss Dickie has made a debut that is as arresting as her director’s. A scene near the end, in which Jackie tries to recapture the feeling of holding a loved one, might be one of the most heartbreaking scenes ever filmed.

“Red Road” is to be the first film of a trilogy, with three directors using the same characters created through a Danish project — also inspired by Mr. Trier — called “The Advance Party.” The next two have huge footsteps in which to follow. “Red Road,” which won the Jury Prize last year at Cannes, is a tense but tender tale of revenge and redemption that makes its points without ever slipping into cliches.

****

TITLE: “Red Road”

RATING: Not rated (language, nudity and a graphic sex scene)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Andrea Arnold based on characters devised by Anders Thomas Jensen and Lone Scherfig.

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

WEB SITE: www.myspace. com/redroadfilm

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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