Saturday, April 14, 2007

Redemption in Dardenne and Arnold

Andrea Arnold's debut feature Red Road, which opens this weekend at the Landmark Sunshine Theatre, recalls Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's 2002 film Le Fils (The Son) in its subject matter, cinematographic techniques, and in its concern with the possibility of redemption for its past burdened characters. In both pictures the final confrontation between antagonists resolves the tensions implicit in the characters' relationships and presents the moment where this redemption can either be seized or rejected. Only the film's conclusions differ in that the Dardennes offer redemption to their most troubled characters, whereas Arnold is interested in saving only the obviously redeemable character.

In Arnold's picture, Jackie (Kate Dickie), a lonely woman who works as a surveillance monitor, spends her days watching the series of cameras that patrol Glasgow's streets and calling in any sign of trouble. During her routine surveillance, she spots the man who killed her husband and daughter (Tony Curran), learning in this way of his release from prison. She begins following him and eventually insinuates her way into his life in the role of potential lover with the motive of taking revenge. Similarly, in the earlier picture, a carpenter, Olivier(Olivier Gourmet), who runs a vocational school for troubled kids, has an opportunity to take in his son's killer (Morgan Marinne) for his program and he begins taking a special interest in the boy. In Arnold's picture, Clyde, the killer of Jackie's husband, is granted the surrogate status of his victim, by taking on the role of Jackie's lover. In Le Fils, the boy, Francis, takes the place of the person he killed and takes on the role of son to Olivier. Although Jackie's motive in granting this surrogate status to the person who has wronged her is clearly revenge, Olivier's motive in doing so is less clear and this uncertainly adds to the film's tension, since the audience doesn't know what action he will take when he eventually confronts the boy.

Red Road takes the form of an outright thriller, but Le Fils, a naturalistic drama, is shot through with the same tension. In both pictures, this tension arises from the imbalance of knowledge in the central relationships. In each case, the main character knows the secondary character's secret without that character being aware of it. Both films lead to an inexorable conclusion in which the main character confronts his antagonist about the great wrong he has committed and offers him a chance at redemption.

In Le Fils, Olivier takes Francis on a long drive to a carpentry warehouse owned by a friend. During the car ride, Olivier gradually inches closer to confrontation by asking the boy about his past. Finally, when they arrive at the empty warehouse, Olivier tells Francis that the boy he killed was his son. Francis, fearing harm, immediately runs away from Olivier and the older man gives chase. The Dardennes' trademark use of the hand held camera adds immediacy to the scene, since the cinematographer, like the characters, must run in order to capture the action, and through him, the audience is granted a sense of participation in the recording of the scene. The chase eventually leads outside the warehouse, where Olivier catches the boy and begins to choke him. He soon thinks better of it and walks off to load his pickup truck with wood. The aborted sacrifice of the "son" recalls Abraham's binding of Isaac and the biblical allusion adds further spiritual weight to the encounter. In the film's final scene, the boy reappears and helps Olivier with the loading. This final image suggests a sense of redemption for both man and child. Apart from the obvious allusion to Christ, suggested by the loading of wood which emphasizes the fact of Olivier's vocation as carpenter, the scene cements a new relationship between the two, one offering new possibilities to both. Olivier has overcome his murderous impulses and can now accept his role as mentor (and surrogate father) to the boy with no illusions in their relationship. The boy has accepted his position and no longer tries to run away from the man he has wronged, but willingly submits to his guidance and forgiveness.

In Arnold's film, the final confrontation takes place in a Glaswegian street. Previous to this encounter, Jackie had engaged in a sexual tryst with Clyde in his apartment. Following intercourse, Jackie had retreated to a bathroom where she bloodied herself and removed Clyde's semen from a condom and inserted it inside herself. She then called the police and brought charges of rape against him. Later, after a talk with Clyde's roommate Stevie, she decided to drop the charges.

The climactic scene begins when she accosts Clyde in the street. When Clyde sees her, he curses her and, like Francis, begins to run. She chases after him and Arnold's hand held camera adds a similar tension to the scene as the Dardennes' hand held in the older work. Clyde escapes onto a bus, but deciding to allow the confrontation, quickly disembarks. As Jackie confronts Clyde with his past crimes (he had been high on crack and drove his car into a bus stop, killing Jackie's family), the scene is ripe for a Dardennian moment of redemption. Arnold, however, offers no such closure for her killer. Clyde, although sorry for the killing, can only mutter "these things happen" and wander off. The film's redemption belongs strictly to Jackie. By dropping the rape charges, she has shown her willingness to forgive and to move on with her life. The film ends with her reconciliation with her in-laws, a reconciliation effected by her decision to scatter her husband's ashes. Her previous unwillingness to part with the ashes, symbolic of her unwillingness to move on after her tragedy, had proved a major point of contention. Her decision to relinquish her husband's (and daughter's) remains firmly illustrates her commitment to start anew, and provides her with a redemption different from, but no less important, than that achieved by the two characters in Le Fils.

No comments: