So, I watched three Scottish films the other day.
Despite being there on my ‘to watch’ list, I hadn’t really planned doing this ahead of time, so it turned out to be an interesting afternoon.
Although quite different, all three films were all enjoyable in their own way and featured some interesting coincidences: two instances of Martin Compston playing a hard man (but let’s face it face it, when does he not), two instances of Kate Dickie getting nude (then again when does she not), two instances of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ (uh, really?), and all 3 films featuring full frontal male nudity (okay, this is getting strange now…).
So grab an Irn-Bru and some shortbread an’ let’s dife reit in! (sorry.)
First up we have Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (2006), about a CCTV operator Jackie (Kate Dickie), who starts to spy on a man from her past (Tony Curran) who has recently resurfaced on the notoriously rough Red Road estate in Glasgow. Who he is to her and why she becomes obsessed with him is gradually revealed as the film goes on, leading to many a tense moment.
Aside from the wonderfully naturalistic performances from all involved, the film excels in two areas. The first is the creepily effective sense of voyeurism felt as we observe a lot of CCTV footage, often from Jackie’s point of view. Glipses of the silent everyday minutiae of people going about their daily lives - as well as following the activities of certain people she has grown fond of watching: the man with the sick dog and the cleaning lady suffering unrequited love, for example. There are so many stories just barely hinted at as we find ourselves peering down from an eye in the sky.
The other interesting aspect of the film for me was the air of mystery that hangs over the whole thing. You think the story is going one way, but then it unexpectedly goes another. Character motivations and actions are not always what they seem and shouldn't be judged by first appearances, both by we the viewers, but also for the other characters in the film. Information is gradually revealed as the story unfolds, shedding new light on our preconceptions. Oh, and keep an eye out for animal symbolism as further hints to the current portrayal of the characters.
The depiction of the Red Road estate is suitably grim and depressing, and the themes of loss and obsession that hang heavily over the whole affair may not be appealling to some (there is one particularly heart-wrenching scene involving baby clothes), but it’s worth watching once, although it may be less impactful on repeat viewings.
The second film watched was the recent adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Filth (2013), which was a pretty wild ride all the way through. Drinking, drug abuse, sex, violence, extortion, corruption – and that's just what the policeman protagonist gets up to! James McAvoy gamely embodies the ambitious yet wholly out of control detective Bruce Robertson in possibly his best role yet.
There’s a darkly humorous streak running all the way through (not to mention many a shocking moment), which makes it all the more effective once the tone shifts into much more serious territory as the walls start to crumble all around Robertson. There’s a great ensemble cast (Jamie Bell does a decent Scottish accent and Eddie Marsan is on fine form once again) and the ‘mystery’ element surrounding Robertson is decent despite being a tad obviously telegraphed from the beginning. Some of the more psychedelic elements ended up being overused (the squealing jump scares involving prosthetics seemed unnecessary and Jim Broadbent’s giant foreheaded Shrink says ‘Yeeees’ one too many times can become grating) but on the whole it’s an engaging look at one man’s decent into madness.
The most interesting aspect for me was how the film very much starts from Robertson’s point of view (and how he perceives himself to be), but gradually shifts towards showing us how things really are. All in all, it’s worth seeing this on the strength of McAvoy’s performance alone.
The final film in this triple bill is the arty sci-fi flick Under the Skin (2013), which stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien who drives around Scotland in a white van seducing men in order to kidnap them. It sounds ridiculous - and it kind of is. The delivery though is slow, steady and at times very minimalist.
Some of random people she encounters whilst driving around were actually real members of the public (secretly filmed via hidden camera), which leads to some authentic moments, despite the fact that she is, you know, a famous Hollywood film star! I wonder how many times people recognized her and they had to scrap the footage? Anyhow, the film is weirdly understated – some may get feel bored quickly at the occasionally ponderous scenes of Scarjo staring blankly at something, but the music is excellently creepy and the once again if you take into account that it’s all an alien’s curious view of human life, the strangeness of it all makes sense.
The strongest parts are the post abduction sequences, which are dreamlike and hypnotic, showing the kidnapped males gradually walking forward oblivious into a black liquid. The final sequence is also impressive, but there is not enough in between these moments to be able to recommend this to absolutely everyone. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson gets naked in this. Hey wait? Where are you going?
So that was my Scottish Triple Bill. I would say they are all weird and wonderful in their own ways whilst also sharing some striking similarities. As of which one I would recommend – it depends what you are in the mood for. The most mainstream would be Filth, a more gritty independent film would be Red Road, and for a more esoteric and dreamlike experience choose Under The Skin.
Sae tak’ yer pick mah hen laddies an’ lassies! Ok, I’ll stop now…