Monday, 19 September 2011
Andrea Arnold is a rare specimen. She's a female director who takes her inspiration from the underclass, but not the glamorous kind - the ill, the infirm, or the gangland heroes - just the invisible people. The type of struggling souls dismissed as 'chavs' and 'hoodies' are sucked up off the rain-soaked streets, the flash bulb is aimed straight at their souls and we see them for the first time.
Arnold's an artist. She knows how to shoot in an interesting way, with stimulating effect. Just as important as the subject matter, is her wish to captivate us - with music, with sound, with silence, with strident candour and divested humanity.
Red Road (2006), a feature length film about a voyeuristic but isolated woman, secured her a Bafta for Best Newcomer. Before this, in 2005, for Wasp, she won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Wasp is less than half an hour long but already her future career is evident in a tale of a disenfranchised single mother hoping for a fulfilling future. In Wasp, Arnold's ability to put ordinary lives austerely under the microscope is an indicator of where her film-making wings will span.
Further awards surfaced for 2009's Fish Tank. Cemented by now is the fact we have a director to watch and enthuse about. A surface tale of teen abuse, Fish Tank is layered. There are complex forces at work in protagonist Mia's life. She's used by her mother's boyfriend, but she invites him in. She's vulnerable but she makes choices at every turn. Nothing's straight-forward in her life, and it's the kind of life that's dexterously brushed away by most.
A proud moment at this stage was when Arnold fought off competition for another BAFTA (in 2010 for Best British Film). Yet another accolade, but once again one still felt compelled to punch the air with pride. As glib as it sounds, she is, after all, doing something remarkable. She's not alone. Samantha Morton proved with her TV movie The Unloved, she's a talented film-maker. Arnold's not the only British woman making stylish and exceptional inroads into British celluloid history, but she's a woman in a man's field and she's mowing down the competition at every opportunity.