Lynne Ramsay


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7.3 Ratcatcher (1999)
7.2 Morvern Callar (2002)
7.1 We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
6.6 You Were Never Really Here (2017)
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Lynne Ramsay (Britain, 1969) directed several short films: the triptych Small Deaths (1996), Kill the Day (1997), and Gasman (1998).

Ratcatcher (1999) is a moving portrait of poverty from the viewpoint of a child. The film is about the desperation of knowing that the future is already written in the past, a future of filth and humiliation for which it is not worth growing up. At the same time it is also the desperation of knowing that one is an accomplice in creating that future from an early age.

The story takes place in a poor neighborhood. Ryan's mother tries in vain to take Ryan to see his father, who is in jail. Ryan runs away and meets his friend James who is playing by the river. Ryan's mother stops by a shop to buy sandals for Ryan. The two boys get into a fight in the mud and eventually James pushes Ryan and runs away. From a distance James realizes that Ryan is not coming to the surface anymore. Later James' mother comes home and sees from the window that a child has drowned, and fears it is James. But James comes home alive. When the hearse comes to pick up the body, James stares silently. When he sees Ryan's mother in mourning, James avoids her. James sees on TV an interview with an expert who talks about the abysmal health conditions of that neighborhood. His parents talk as if they are going to be relocated soon. His father George catches a mice with a trap and then flushes it down a toilet. James has an older sister and a younger sister, Anne Marie. His mother goes to work but his father seems to only sleep and drink. James witnesses six older boys steal the glasses of an older girl, Margaret Anne, and throw the glasses in the water. When the boys leave, the girl asks James if he sees her glasses. He says he doesn't although the glasses are right in front of him. She asks him if he knew Ryan and James says no. One day Ryan's parents are loading a moving truck. James and his mother witness how they start arguing, the woman accusing the man of killing Ryan because he was never there to help. James' mother hugs Ryan's sobbing mother. James stares silently. James also sees Ryan's father crying on the steps. Ryan's mother gives James the sandals that she bought for Ryan. James meets Kenny, his animal-lover friend who dreams of having an entire zoo when he grows up. His mother hides from the man who comes to collect rent. The older boys harass James and then take him with them when they go to harass Margaret Anne. James is embarrass to see her half naked and she hugs him. All of these people, adults and children, are constantly surrounded by garbage bags that nobody seems to pick up ever. James is jealous of his older sister who takes the bus (to an unknown destination) and one collects his savings to pay for a bus ride and rides the bus all the way to its terminal in the middle of nowhere. There's nobody around. He gets off the bus and explores a group of beautiful homes that are still under construction. From there he runs into a field of wheat. Somehow he returns home and watches TV with his parents and little sister. His father is drunk and falls asleep. The following morning Kenny sees James walking around the many garbage bags and shows him what he got for his birthday: a white mouse. The older boys see it and harass Kenny. Kenny boasts that his mouse can fly to the Moon. Kenny hangs the mouse by the tail to his birthday balloon and releases it in the sky. And we see the balloon leaving the Earth and landing on the Moon (presumably a dream since the next thing we see is James asleep). James hangs out with Margaret Anne, who still hasn't found her glasses. She strips naked in front of him to take a bath. He washes her hair and she invites him in the tub with her, so he undresses too and they play in the tub naked. James laughs when Margaret Anne sits on the toilet and pees. After the bath, they watch TV together. At the same time, Kenny's mother knocks frantically at James' door because Kenny has fallen in the river. James' father rushes to the river and saves Kenny from drowning. His father is sleeping when two city officers come to inspect the apartment. James lets them in thinking that they are there to relocate them to a new house like the ones he explored. When the inspector leave, instead, his father is mad at James for letting them in: the apartment is a mess. The whole family has to dress up for an official ceremony at which James' father is recognized as a hero for saving Kenny's life and is given a medal. But later he gets drunk and is attacked in the street by the usual punks and comes home bleeding. He bought football shoes for James but James doesn't want them and throws them at the drunk father. His mother was dancing happily with the girls and the drunk father slaps her in the face for no reason. James runs away and knocks at Margaret Anne's apartment. She lets him in and lets him sleep in her bed. Before they fall asleep she asks him if he loves her and he says yes. In the morning finally soldiers, wearing face masks, arrive on military trucks and pick up the stinking garbage bags that have piled up the neighborhood. James walks to the river. The other boys are going crazy around the soldiers but James instead catches the bus to explore again the beautiful unfinished homes. Back home, James finds Kenny who has just killed a rat and is proud of it, and James also accuses him of having killed the white mouse. James also see the usual punks taking turns at sexually harassing Margaret Anne. And at the same time Kenny reveals that he saw him kill Ryan. James walks to the river again and drops in the water. Then we see his family carrying their humble furniture through the wheat field towards the unfinished beautiful homes. Margaret Anne is with them, reflected in the mirror that she is carrying. James is with them and smiles. But the film ends with James drowning: he drowns dreaming of his family being relocated in one of those beautiful homes.

Morvern Callar (2002) is an almost surreal portrait of loneliness and frustration, of a desperate attempt to escape the fate of a working girl. A simple mind becomes a calculating mind. She realizes that her boyfriend's suicide, in theory a pointless act that benefits nobody, does not have to be an "end" but instead offers the opportunity to start a new life. She coldly carries out her plan that will take her far away.

A young woman and a young man are lying on the floor next to a flickering Christmas tree. She is awake. He appears to be asleep but we soon realize that he is dead: he slits his wrist. Her computer shows that she has a message. Morvern reads it: it's the man's suicide note that ends with "I love you". It also says where to find the text of his unpublished novel. She briefly walks outside, then returns to open her Christmas presents. The dead body is still lying on the floor. Then she takes a bath. She puts makeup on her face and diligently paints her nails. She walks out and meets her friend Lanna and they go to a bar. When Lanna asks her where's her boyfriend, Morvern simply says that he is not coming. Lanna and Morvern move on to a party. The two girls, after stopping at the beach, eventually walk back home at dawn, laughing. They visit Lanna's granma and even take a bath together. Morvern tells Lanna that her boyfriend left her. Lanna reassured Morvern that he'll be back. The following day they go to work. They both work at a supermarket. Lanna notices that Morvern is sad and thinks it's because the boyfriend left her. On the way home Morvern stops to cook lunch for Lanna's granma. Then at home she reads her boyfriend's instructions. He wants Morvern to send the manuscript to a number of publishers. He left her money for his funeral. Morvern replaces the man's name with her own name on the manuscript. She withdraws the man's money and books a Spanish resort vacation with Lanna. Back home she finally washes the blood off the floor. And then she hauls the man's body into the bathtub and cuts it in small pieces. She packs the body parts into a backpack and hikes to an open space where she buries them. She then runs around like a child. The night before the flight, Lanna sleeps over at Morvern's apartment. Before going to sleep Lanna confesses that she slept with Morvern's boyfriend. She apologizes in tears. Morvern doesn't say anything. Just before boarding the plane Morvern hears from a publisher who is interested in the novel. Lanna thinks he's a new boyfriend. Lanna is ready to party wildly with the guys who are staying at the resort. Morvern instead is in a somber room. When Lanna joins the young crowd in a dance club with loud electronic music, Morvern walks back to her hotel room. She then wanders around the deserted hallways until she hears a man who sounds in distress. She knocks at his door and he tells her that his mother just died. Suddenly she gets into a good mood. They dance, play like children, strip naked and have sex. In the morning Morvern finds Lanna in bed with a guy, both on drugs. Morvern rudely tells a puzzled Lanna to pack her things because they are moving. They leave the hotel in a rush. Morvern flags down a random car and apparently just asks to drive away. The car is rundown and the driver plays loud Arabic music. Eventually they are blocked by some kind of loud religious procession. The girls get off and join the crowd. Lanna agains goes wild and Morvern briefly loses her. When Morvern finds her again, Lanna has lost her suitcase, with all her expensive cloths. Morvern starts walking away from the town, in a foreign place, with no apparent destination, with no explanation. Lanna complains that her feet hurt. Morvern keeps walking away from the town. Eventually they are surrounded by fields. It gets dark. Lanna is exhausted, and confused by Morvern's mood. They have to sleep on the road. When Morvern wakes up, Morvern takes a few belongings and leaves most of the suitcase to Lanna, who is still asleep, and walks away alone. She hitchhikes to a town from where she telephones the publisher. The publisher flies to Spain to sign the contract. He pays her a huge lump sum. After the meeting Morvern tries in vain to get in touch with Lanna, who seems to have already left Spain. Morvern returns home. She finds the cheque. She packs her things and drops the key of the apartment in the landlord's mailbox. Morvern meets Lanna at a pub and tells her that she is leaving. Morvern asks Lanna to leave with her. Lanna replies that she's happy where she is, with her job and her friends, and doesn't think she'd be happier anywhere else. Morvern walks alone to the train station in the night.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) is a brutal psychological thriller, but this time its focus is on the shocked witness, the powerless spectator, the involuntary cause of the crime, and not so much about the criminal. The crime seems to be a direct emanation of the son's morbid hatred for his mother, of his insatiable desire to hurt her.

The film opens with images of a pagan ritual in which a crowd dances drenched in red paint. A woman, Eva, is hauled above the crowd and then in the red mud, and she's ecstatic.
Eva lives in a humble home whose front has been painted red. The windshield of her car has been painted red too.
Flashback show her previous life as the wealthy wife of a wealthy businessman living in a nice mansion with their little son.
Eva is tormented by a tragedy that affected the whole town. Another series of flashbacks shows a crowd of desperate mothers surrounding a building. They hate her.
Eva applies for a secretarial job and is hired. As she's walking towards her car, a passer-by recognizes her and punches her in the face. A man would like to help her but Eva says it's nothing.
She visits someone in a prison but we don't see his face. They don't talk.
A flashback shows Eva giving birth to a boy and then raising him in the mansion with her loving husband. The child is not normal: he refuses to talk, to play, to smile. Longer and longer flashbacks show that the child remained hostile to his mother. He was a little monster to her, but nice and brilliant with everybody else, especially his father. His father got him a bow and arrows, which quickly became his favorite passtime. Frustrated by this child, she decided to have another one, and a girl was born. Now a teenager, Kevin still behaved as if he despised his mother and enjoyed humiliating her. Then one day he left out some dangerous chemicals and his sister burned her eye. His sister was left blind from one eye. Far from apologizing or feeling guilty, he made fun of the girl and ate a cooked egg as if it were an eye.
In the present Eva is scrubbing red paint from the walls of her house and going to work and doing little else with her life.
His father gave Kevin a nice Christmas present: a real bow with real arrows. Then Kevin mail-ordered some powerful bike locks, telling his parents that he wanted to sell them to schoolmates. Instead he used them to lock all the gates of his high school and then methodically killed his schoolmates with his bow. When the police finally opened the front door, Kevin simply surrendered to them. Eva went back home looking for her husband: he and the little girl were lying outside, killed the same way by the same bow. Kevin had left only her alive, as if the whole point was to hurt her and maximize her pain. He is the one she visits at the prison. She tells him that she wants to understand why he did. He replies that he doesn't know.

You Were Never Really Here (2017), an adaptation of Jonathan Ames's novella, is a rather shallow psychological portrait that tries to say something profound about childhood abuse. Unfortunately the plot is only partially interesting, and the direction, which sometimes feels amateurish, fails to create the atmosphere of terror, especially of inner terror. At best, this is a horror fairy tale with a happy ending.

The film begins showing a father imposing strict discipline on his son by having him wear a plastic bag on his head till almost suffocating. Then we see Joe flushing blood in a toilet and disposing of some garbage. He is attacked in a alley but easily disposes of the attacker. He takes a taxi to the airport and calls John and leaves a message on the answering machine that his job is done, presumably a killing. Joe gets home and takes care of his elderly mother. Then he picks up money (his pay) at the shop of his friend Angel. Angel's son has seen him near his house, i.e. knows where Joe lives, and this seems to be a problem for Joe. His mother asks him about Janice, a girlfriend that Joe had 20 years earlier. Joe is traumatized by memories of his childhood when his father was making him wear a pastic bag on his head and still does it in a closet. Joe visits John and tells him to remove Angel as their contact because his son knows too much. John gives him a new assignment: rescue the teenage daughter of a senator, who has run away and is now being sold in prostitution. Joe meets the senator who heard of his reputation as a brutal killer and wants him to make the exploiters of his daughter suffer. Joe buys a hammer and walks to a sauna. On the way four girls ask him to take pictures of them and this brings back bad memories of his time in the army. Joe drives to the brothel where Nina is being kept. When he sees a boy leave the brothel, he grabs him and forces him to tell him the combination to get in. Then he strangles him. Joe enters the brothel, kills the security guards, kills one naked patron and finds Nina. He carries her outside and drives her to a hotel room where they wait for her father the senator. The TV news, however, announces that her father has killed himself jumping from a skyscraper. They hardly have the time to absorb the news that two cops force their way in, shoot Joe in the face and take the girl away. The wounded Joe calls John trying to find out what this is all about, but John doesn't pick up the phone. Joe drives to John's home and finds him dead. Joe calls Angel but we see that Angel is being murdered too. He returns home to find his own mother dead, shot in an eye. The killers are still in the house. He kills one and mortally wounds the other one. Then he interrogates the latter while he is dying and learns that the senator was killed because he wanted to quit the sex trafficking business run by the governor, and that Nina is now with the governor. Joe lies next to the dying killer of his mother, hums a song with him, and even holds his hand. Then he loads his mother's body in the car and drives to a lake. He fills his pockets with stones and carries his mother's body into the water, as if trying to kill himself while burying her. But then he empties his pockets and returns to shore when he starts thinking of Nina, a child abused like he was. Joe enters the governor's mansion armed with the usual hammer, and kills the security guards, but then finds the governor dead, his throat slit. He has a nervous breakdown and removes his shirt. He walks bare-chested around the house until he finds Nina, calmly eating at a table with bloodied hands. He drives her to a diner. While she is in the bathroom, he shoots himself. But it's only a dream. Nina comes back and the two leave together.
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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )