Hero Worship: Filmmaker Joe Cottrell-Boyce on Andrea Arnold

Filmmaker Joe Cottrell-Boyce sings the praises of Andrea Arnold and the empathy she shows to her heartbreakingly real characters

Feature by Joe Cottrell-Boyce | 04 Mar 2014
  • Andrea Arnold

Far too often, social realism in British cinema serves up a nauseating cocktail of Daily Mail clichés supposedly offset by a dose of patronising Guardian sympathy. One dimensional characters shout about whatever issue it is the filmmaker has decided to address. The bleakness is so total it becomes hammy. Everyone is horrible. There is no humour. No nuance. No humanity.

Maybe it’s a symptom of how hideously divided a society we live in but sometimes the genre feels like domestic orientalism; voyeuristic middle class audiences firmly demarcated from the working class natives parading across the screen.

So I stumbled across Andrea Arnold’s Wasp with low expectations and was delivered a dizzying revelation.

If another filmmaker had made the Oscar winning short film it would have been easy to categorise as ‘a film about a single mother’. But Arnold instead makes it a film about love. The hot, furious love of a mother for her children, battling with the giddy weightlessness of a teenage love affair that’s come too late.

I was a 19-year-old care worker when I first watched Wasp and before the title credits had finished rolling I was itching to get out and make films of my own.

It doesn’t feel like Arnold is thinking that much about her audience, or about making a point. Instead her films seem to be driven by an empathy with her heartbreakingly real, breathing, pulsing characters. She takes the complexities and contradictions of human beings as a starting point for stories that are truly cinematic. Her intense Glaswegian film noir Red Road is a masterful exploration of obsession, but it’s the stark human pain at its core that drives it to its unexpected conclusion.

Similarly the tense finale of Fish Tank is fueled by pure, visceral emotion. I could feel every sinew of Mia’s rage at the disappointment and betrayal that accompany her brutal initiation into adulthood.

Just as she draws out drama from the lives of ordinary people, Arnold (together with her brilliant cinematographer Robbie Ryan) has a Terrence Malick like ability to draw out beauty from everyday settings; epic vistas of Essex marshes in Fish Tank and monolithic tower blocks in Red Road.

At the most basic level, the subject of all film is life. Arnold deals with life with a brutal honesty; it’s harsh and unfair and treacherous and painful and confusing and scary but it’s beautiful. Her bravery and honesty are a challenge and an inspiration to me as filmmaker.

Joe Cottrell-Boyce's Treasure screens 8 Mar at Frederiks, Liverpool, as part of Liverpool Lift-Off Film Festival 2014, which takes place at The Kazimier and Frederiks 8-10 Mar and is free to attend

As well aiming to bring quality independent film to a Liverpool audience for free, Lift-Off hopes to support local filmmakers through a 'transatlantic exchange' whereby the audience-selected winning films are screened at its sister festivals in London, Los Angeles and Las Vegas

Find out more about Joe Cottrell-Boyce's work here: http://www.lonelyimpulse.co.uk

See website for full details