The Unplanned Pregnancy Book for Teens and College Students
by Dorrie Williams-Wheeler
(in Paperback from Amazon)
Some people run off at the mouth. This film runs off with the footage, as in way overmuch. It's a taut tale that combines civic surveillance with voyeurism, revenge with eroticism. The interesting part of the concept is that a person, in this case a woman, who watches life from a cool distance in a monitor room becomes viscerally involved in that life when she spots a man who arouses something deep within.
Jackie Morrison (Kate Dickie) is an official operator of cameras that survey (one might say patrol) a city for incidents of crime or needed rescue. From the sanctity of a room of monitors in a private security firm, she's not a removed, dispassionate representative of civic security and oversight. Indeed, she is a member of that community, only temporarily a high-angle overseer--not a distant deity nor big brother. She lives modestly and within the constrained behavior suitable to her North Glasgow sense of propriety. If anything, despite good looks and a fine body, she's lonely.
With densely posted CCTV cameras covering the city like a blanket, no street, alley or road is safe from the lenses. During working hours, posted at the console of the monitor room, she's outfitted in her official uniform, joystick in hand, panning and zooming into any image that attracts her attention. A young girl hanging out alone suddenly surrounded by men with less than kind intentions causes Jackie to put in a phone call requesting police contact and, before you can say "tilt down," two Bobbies are on it.
As events roll out on her scores of angles, she can be amused, alarmed, or just pleased at the actions and episodes playing out on the streets. Some are innocent and every-day, some aren't. A man walking his aged bull terrior earns her attention and empathy.
The chink in her personal propriety is a regular tryst with one of her married male colleagues, in his car -- episodes that seem to be for his pleasure and not much more than duty for her. Perhaps it serves the purpose of keeping her reminded that she's still in the game, not yet retired to the biddy farm.
A man appearing to be stalking a girl gets her alarm signals up... until it becomes a scene of street commerce, alleyway prostitution. But the man... she knows the man. She zooms in. It's him, Clyde (Tony Curran), a person she never thought she'd see again and never wanted to. Suddenly, new cards are in play; some kind of internal pain is ignited. Now in investigative mode, she dons her civilian attire and goes out into the "field" for a bit of a confrontation.
Bit by bit, we learn that he's an ex-con, highly functional on the mean streets of this crime-ridden area, a danger to others, not a victim. He's a feral presence, with the confidence of a gang leader. Her attraction to him might be sexual, but it seems more than that, something with more weight driving her.
She approaches him with so much care and hesitancy, we detect as much fear as attraction. She works up her courage and, when he finally gets a good look at her, we see that he doesn't know her from Adam. She's no Jessica Alba, but with her somewhat severe look, dark hair and angular features, she's sexy. As he puts it when he says a word to her, recognizing her interest, she got a "nice arse."
Writer-director Arnold keeps the purpose of the pursuit in an unexplained tension which rises in taut curiosity with every step she takes. If there's anything wrong with the dramatic development it's that she goes on longer than necessary with it (hence my opening statement). But what works so wekll is that every supposition we make about her heroine's motives are undermined by her choices. A sex scene is played out in such lingering detail as to hold a tenuous line near pornography, causing one to wonder why a female sensibility guiding the scenario would go for erotic detailing rather than the conventions of subtlety. True, character is defined by the specifics of a sex act as much as by any other behavior and Arnold is determined to provide that perspective.
In the end, while we may not see Jackie's choices as anything resembling a norm of behavior, our fascination with them -- just for that reason -- imparts a quality that's singular and haunting. Partly through Dickie's naturalism and talent there's never a question of plausibility.
The Scottish-English accents are a challenge all their own particularly as rendered by what seems low-end sound equipment. Fortunately, the story is told with great silences as the woman stalks her quarry; but the bad news is that when there's dialogue, it carries a greater burden of importance for intelligibility and understanding.
The area camera installations, for this to be possible, aren't obscured. Their ubiquitous presence seem to be (we see several shots of them) all too obvious to remain untouched by the criminal element that infests this part of town. But they are benignly accepted and working in high tech harmony.
The film was made as a first production of a communal project called the Advance Party concept in which different directors will make different films with the same characters as developed by Lone Scherfig ("Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself") and Anders Thomas Jensen ("Brothers"), of Danish firm Zentropa. Andrea Arnold, a writer-director of short films, having won an Oscar in the shorts division with "Wasp," is the first out of the gate in what seems a Kibbutzy plan to keep a cadre of film workers employed around Glasgow. With such a strong strain of talent in the area, world filmgoers will be the richer for it.
It's good to see Martin Compston again, who doesn't appear to have done much work for theatres since his splash intro in "Sweet Sixteen." With enough TV to keep him busy, this fine young actor, who here turns in a fiery enough portrayal to hold his own as a background character, deserves more time in the limelight.
Speaking of which, countryman Robbie Ryan meets the challenge of low-budget production values with good use of his High Definition digital camera, often in tight because of available space or directorial preference.
A haunting treat awaits fans of Indie arthouse cinema who will witness an emotionally damaged woman making choices that are guided by a pain at her core, her desire for an impossible redemption, and desire itself. As for the somewhat extended length of it, could this be the sudden freedom of a writer-director breaking the bonds of short film?
~~ Jules Brenner