The future of Sco “ _ c film set twenty years in the pa Director LYNNE RAMSAY'S _.ﬂ Ratcatcher is as haunting
poetic a debut as you're ever to see. us. Nigel Floyd
IN ROBERT BRESSON'S STUDY OF CINEMA, Notes On Cinematography, the French director distinguishes between two types of film: ‘Those that employ the resources of the theatre (actors, direction, etc.) and use the camera in order to reproduce: those that employ the resources of cinematography and use the camera to create.’
Bresson‘s aphoristic observations were a powerful influence on Lynne Ramsay, Glasgow-born director of Ratcatcher, even before she had seen any of Bresson’s spare, spiritually charged work. Like her award- winning short films — Small Deaths, Kill The Day and Gasman — Ramsay’s first feature constructs rather than records reality, imbuing the simplest domestic exchanges and the tiniest details with an extraordinary emotional and psychological resonance.
Set during the refuse workers’ strike of the mid-70s, Ratcatcher views the rubbish-strewn Glasgow streets and cramped interiors of the Gillespie family’s flat through the eyes of twelve-year-old James (William Eadie), a sensitive boy haunted by the drowning of another local lad in the nearby canal.
Inside the house is the parents‘ domain, dominated by the faintly threatening presence of James’s often drunk Da (Tommy Flanagan). Outside, playing beside the canal, or running through the idyllic cornfield he discovers on the outskirts of the city, James enjoys a more relaxed freedom, punctuated by moments of ecstatic release.
But James must always return to the tense. edgy atmosphere of the family home: ‘The environment outside the flat.’ explains Ramsay, ‘is the kids‘ domain, where James
has a space of his own, whereas the domestic interiors feel much more threatening and claustrophobic. The family is trapped and isolated within that domestic space. where everyone’s always on top of one another.’
Ramsay’s preference for location shooting and use of non- professional actors (‘being’ rather than ‘seeming‘. as Bresson would have it) has led to flattering, but erroneous comparisons with Ken Loach. There is a world of difference. however. between the unfiltered naturalism that Loach aims for in My Name Is Joe, and the conscious manipulation of cinematic space in Ramsay’s work.
If anything. the 29-year-old filmmaker looks closer to home for her inspiration. to fellow Scot Bill Douglas‘s autobiographical trilogy My Childhood. My Ain Folk and My Way Home. What interests her is not the pursuit of realism or naturalism for its own sake. but the creation of often highly constructed images that evoke the complexity and ambiguity of human experience.
‘Sometimes I like to be very spontaneous, just shoot on the hoof and see what happens.‘ she says. ‘Other times I like to be really. really careful. I don’t sit and over-analyse what I’m doing, [just think, what works for me‘? But I question why I‘m doing every shot. What‘s happening here. why are we doing this? It‘s not just a case of. let‘s stick on some fancy filter because it will look good. It’s much more about. how would this character be. how would they see this?‘
Ramsay has just returned from six weeks in Spain. where she was working not on her tan. but on the second draft of her adaptation ofAlan Warner‘s cruelly funny novel Morvern Callar, in which the eponymous 21-year-old supermarket worker passes off her dead boyfriend’s novel as her own.
‘If I can get final cut. and I won‘t budge on that, we could start shooting in spring next year.’ says Ramsay. ‘In the book. I feel you sometimes hear the author‘s voice inside Morvern’s head. but the script is going in different places. Whatever happens. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Ratcatcher opens Fri 12 Nov. See review, page 27.
'I question why I'm doing every shot. What's happening here, why are we doing this?’
4—18 Nov 1999 THE “ST 11