Few first-time filmmakers get invited to the main competition in Cannes. But then, not many debut movies are as extraordinary as Andrea Arnold’s “Red Road,” which won the venerable French fest’s Grand Prix du Jury in 2006.
Set in the bleak housing projects of Glasgow, Scotland, “Red Road” is an emotional thriller about a surveillance camera attendant who becomes dangerously obsessed and entangled with a man from her tragic past. If that sounds grim, it completely misrepresents the sheer cinematic poetry and the profound optimism about human nature that Arnold draws out of such unpromising material.
“Andrea has a wonderful edge. She puts a bit of sparkle onto everything that’s horrible and dark and makes it original,” says Gillian Berrie, the pic’s exec producer. “She puts the camera to such emotional use, she has great insight into human nature, and she works like a Trojan.”
The gritty arthouse world of “Red Road” is a long way from Arnold’s first career as a children’s TV presenter in the 1980s. She quit that life to attend film school courses for a year in Los Angeles, where she was encouraged to trust her creative instincts, even if she could not always articulate them.
On her return to Blighty, she honed her helming skills on wildlife TV shows: “I’ve filmed polar bears, rhinos — you tell me a wild animal and I can tell you how to get away from it,” she laughs.
When she eventually managed to get a couple of shorts commissioned, her potential both as a writer and director was impossible to miss. Her debut short “Milk” was selected for Cannes’ Critics Week. Her third, “Wasp,” won the Oscar in 2005, and that led to “Red Road.”
Her filmmaking style remains instinctual and fluid, always seeking to capture surprising moments of grace and beauty.
“No matter what happens to you in your life, all around you there are amazing things,” Arnold says.
It’s that attitude, backed up by an exceptional talent in working both with actors and the camera, that sets her apart from the facile miserablism of so much European arthouse cinema.
Despite being inundated by projects from Hollywood, her next project is another original screenplay in a similar vein that she’s writing for Dutch producer Kees Kasander.
Provenance: Dartford, Essex
Inspired by: “Mainly it’s just real life around me that inspires me. I see someone on the bus, and I want to write about them. But among filmmakers, I suppose Tarkovsky. He has something spiritual about him. His book ‘Sculpting in Time’ is on my bedside table.”
Reps: Kara Baker, Gersh; Matthew Bates, Sayle Screen (U.K.)