Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Lynne Ramsay - For your Consideration

The early disclaimer! - I jumped on the bandwagon after being blown away by "We Need To Talk About Kevin" in 2011. A truly wonderful film, thought provoking, and a tough story so brilliantly portrayed.

I have since completed my Lynne Ramsay back catalogue, and bring you my appraisals here. I hope you enjoy.

As with all of my film blog's I write from a fan's perspective, of the Director's art and craft for making incredible films, rather than producing endless fact tracks and trivia. Those can be found elsewhere on the Internet!
It is also not my intention to provide spoilers as it is not my intention to spoil these great films for you in any way. Moreover, this blog is an appreciation of the film's crafted by a wonderful Director and a thorough recommendation to suspend your disbelief and enjoy these creations.

Here, the third in my series of British Directors, three film's from the wonderful vision of Lynne Ramsay

Ratcatcher (1999)

"Bye Bye Snowball!"

Seen through the eyes of young "James" (William Eadie) we follow his turbulent life in inner city Glasgow in the early 1970's. Living in the poorest accommodation in the city and with the country in the midst of a general strike, rubbish and filth is piling up everywhere which is captured brilliantly throughout the film as the neighbourhood children all play amongst the discarded black rubbish bags and make their own entertainment. William Eadie is the stand out performer as James, as we follow his days with the local children from the Estate, their escapades and their tragedies. Splitting time between home, a brown sepia toned flat that requires major redecoration and modernisation, an often drunk and sometime abusive Father "Da" (Tommy Flanagan), his "Ma" (Mandy Matthews) and his siblings or in the filth and litter strewn Estate or nearby similarly fetid and filthy canal, James' existence is bleak, unhealthy and graphically portrayed as such.

Against this bleak backdrop, James makes many unusual friendships and none more so than with "Kenny" (John Miller) a boy mercilessly teased for his affiliation with animals and for his kind hearted demeanour and with "Margaret-Anne" (Leanne Mullen) an older girl from the neighbourhood who's loneliness leads her to into more and more trouble. These two friendships in particular drive the film and provide some of the light relief required. Kenny and James are polar opposite, as is James from Margaret-Anne, but here a joint need for escape from their situations brings them together and their dual scenes are a joy.

Funded and supported by both the Arts Council and BBC Films, this is a mighty impressive debut feature from Director Ramsay. Thirteen years since release, the film has not aged and shocks and pleases in equal measure. Also written by the Director, the film oozes love and affection despite it's bleak subject matter, is clearly a very personal film for Ramsay and a family affair at that, with James Ramsay playing "Mr Quinn" and Lynne Ramsay jnr playing "Anne Marie". As shown more effectively in her second feature film, the early hallmarks of overhead shots and slow motion shots are evident throughout as is a rapidly cut narrative to propel this 94 minute film.

With a minimal musical score from Rachel Portman, the soundtrack from the era is a joy and is often a prelude to a key scene. It's also interesting to note how often the film's joyous and uplifting highlights are juxtaposed against a bleaker melodramatic scene, as the film has many high points and some darkly comedic moments too. 

The shocking scenes truly shock at first glance as they seemingly come from nowhere within the narrative, however the film's highlights will truly make you smile when they arrive. The excitement etched across James' face as he explores the half built new houses on the outskirts of the city, jumping through an empty window and into a wheat field is a delight, as are the many scenes with Margaret-Anne (as in the picture above), their tender times together and especially their shared bath!

Using stock footage of the era, fantastic performances from William Eadie and Leanne Mullen in particular and guided lovingly by Director Ramsay, this is a directorial debut film to be justly proud of.

Morvern Callar (2002)

"Sorry Morvern. Don't try to understand, it just felt like the right thing to do. My novel is on the disk, print it out and send it to the first publisher on this list, if they will not take it, try the next one down. I wrote it for you. 
I love you
Be brave"

My brief dissection of the opening twelve minutes: Intertwined within the basic opening credits is "Morvern Callar" (Samantha Morton) her face only sporadically illuminated as she caresses a nearby partially naked body. Later slow reveals show spots of blood on the body, then larger wounds which are gradually illuminated by the flickering on and off of a Christmas Tree's lights in the background. The only sound is a faint whirring or buzzing sound, presumably from these lights. A brief moment later the room is further lit by a kitchen light in addition to the Christmas Tree lights and two bodies, one male, one female lay prone on the floor. Morvern Callar awakens and again caresses the prone male body, with the only audio a faint sigh as she runs her fingers across the body and through his fingers. Her wedding ring finger is in focus, with what looks like a wedding ring plus one other ring. This is all seen from an overhead shot which becomes a theme for the film as we progress. With no audio, we cut to a computer screen with a simple "READ ME" on the screen. Further flash cuts are used as we cut between Callar reading the text on the screen with the Christmas Tree illuminating in the background and a zoom on the text itself.

A crashing audio (of collecting coins from a table) is the very first noticeable audio of the film, quickly followed by similarly loud audio of a payphone dial tone and a train roaring past nearby. Now awaiting a train at a deserted station, the same payphone is ringing and brings about another crashing, unexpected audio. Following a brief and bizarre telephone conversation (the first verbal audio of the film), Callar returns home. A brief cut later sees Callar now sitting alone in front of a two bar fire opening Christmas presents. The only audio is of the unwrapping of the gifts, a coat, a lighter, a walkman stereo and a tape entitled "Music for You". On opening this, we see a long shot from Callar to the prone male body, a long, lingering shot until with a jolt we cut to another overhead shot of Callar now in the bath staring directly upwards. Again there is minimal audio of just the faint dripping of water before she leaves the bath with a crash of audio from the gushing water.

A quick cut later sees Callar now preparing for a night out, painting her nails and whilst doing so the camera zooms in/fades on her wedding ring finger set against the newly painted nails. With no audio again until she rises to her feet, the scene continues to be unnerving, almost unreal in it's playing out. Her high heels now the only audio, she takes some money from the back pocket of the prone male body and whispers a "thank you" before an overhead shot shows her departing the apartment (high heels on the stairs the only audio) and following a brief walk (again her high heels being the only noticeable audio) she meets her friend "Lanna" (Kathleen McDermott).

How's that for an opening twelve minutes? Not convinced? Here's my three favourite brief scenes, with similarly brief description:
With a rolling camera shot merging to a slow motion shot from below, Morven Callar arrives at work, backed by the gorgeous "Some Velvet Morning" from Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. A brilliantly shot and surreal brief scene.
Amidst a beautifully scenic yet bleak backdrop, Morvern Callar completes her burial with only a far away sound of a bird for company. There follows an ecstatic, excited laugh and dance accompanied by "Blue Milk" from Stereolab. A beautiful scene despite it's horrific connotations. 

A simple and short scene but the accompanying picture paints a thousand words. Utterly brilliant.

Despite the above being three favourite scenes, there are many more I could have chosen but along with the rest of this appraisal, I will leave it deliberately vague so as not to provide any further spoilers. Funded in part and supported by The National Lottery, Scottish Film and BBC films, this really is a gem of a film based on the book of the same name by Alan Warner. Brilliantly shot by Director Ramsay and her Director of Photography Alwin Kuchler, the above telephone call amidst a setting sun is a wonderful example of their eye for detail and for framing a beautiful shot perfectly. There are so many more examples in this fantastic film, a busy moving camera in a nightclub, a deserted and dusty road framed to accentuate the remote and barren backdrop and a deserted, remote loch or river in the early morning are other cinematic joys awaiting you. There are many, many more. Together with numerous overhead shots and oddly framed shots which with further investigation and engagement from the audience really work on an affecting level, the film engages you constantly with a twisted and surreal narrative that never relents in intensity. Already referenced, the wedding ring and other devices are framed close up with lingering shots reinforcing their significance, or otherwise. The soundtrack is a real joy and a mix of thumping songs morphed against more chilled, relaxing songs, giving it an air of a very eclectic mix. In addition to the two songs already referenced, there are many from Aphex Twin, The Velvet Underground "I'm sticking with you", Lee Perry's "Hold of Death" and Holger Czukay's "Cool in the Pool" amongst many more.

With so little dialogue in places inanimate objects often provide the background noise and "score" if you will. Many scenes are purposely slow, building and with no audio are eerily brilliant, jolting at times and affecting at others with any actual musical score itself cleverly faded in and out of Morvern Callar's new walkman. Although billed as the film's star, it is more joint stars, as both Samantha Morton and Kathleen McDermott are simply stunning as best friends, confidants and thrill seekers. Although Morton has far more screen time, both actresses deserve great joint credit for their wonderful performances. Their joint scenes together depict two best friends and two young girls desperately trying to make sense of life while making the very best of their situation. This 97 minute gem from Director Ramsay sees only 24 main character roles but the emphasis is always on Morvern Callar and her best friend Lanna seeking the absolute from life. There is a constant juxtaposition of quiet serenity and melancholy crashed against a louder and more brash real life that surrounds them. A film of loss, taking a chance and exploring life outside of the norm which is seen through a drug fuelled haze at times, cut frenetically, and between some extraordinary scenes of brilliance, and of bizarre scenes matching the eclectic mood of the accompanying soundtrack. A master class from Director Ramsay.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

"Do you know where you're spending the afterlife? Oh, yes, I do as a matter of fact. I'm going straight to hell, eternal damnation, the whole bit. Thank you for asking, OK?". 

Another part funded and supported film from the UK Film Council and National Lottery, this third film from Lynne Ramsay is based on the best selling original novel by Lionel Shriver and quite simply one of the best films of 2011, if not the 21st Century so far. With a screenplay adaptation from Ramsay and Rory Kinnear this film is simply a tour de force for 112 minutes. The film can be a difficult watch at times and even more so to comprehend as the weaving of twisted and intricate narratives never allow you to fully settle into the film, this is certainly another challenging film from the Director but more importantly an absolute triumph. A truly unsettling and bizarre opening sequence sets the scene, quickly establishing the twisted narrative timeline and introduction of all main characters. "Eva Khatchadourian" (Tilda Swinton) is quickly seen reliving her memories through her dreams and nightmares, of her son "Kevin Khatchadourian" (played brilliantly as a younger Kevin by Jasper Newell and as an older teenager by Ezra Miller) and of her devoted and loving husband "Franklin" (John C Reilly on brilliant form as always). Another Ramsay film with a small overall cast, there are key cameo and supporting roles throughout, however the emphasis always falls to Tilda Swinton in particular who is utterly brilliant in every scene. 

The opening seconds alone mix the timeline throughout as we as an audience walk towards an open set of French Windows whose blind is gently flowing on the breeze, the only audible sound appears to be an indistinct whirring noise in the distance. Is this now, the present day, or still a dream flashback? Cutting to Eva, now held aloft by a large crowd of people (shot from above - a Ramsay trademark) as she is daubed in a redcurrent jus of some kind (red becomes a key theme of the film throughout), she is exultant, overjoyed, beaming and a real tangible sense of being alive. This is clearly a flashback as she awakens to stumble outside to see the majority of her house and car daubed in red paint. Quick cuts between a young child with an eye patch singing happily to herself to Eva, submerging her head in water to wake herself from her dreams is brilliantly juxtaposed with our first sighting of teenage Kevin as the two faces seamlessly merge together. A key metaphor for the film is already established just a couple of minutes into this classic, of a mother's love and never being able to shake thoughts of her children.

With a twisting narrative that often purposely disorientates the audience, flashbacks, overhead shots, unusually framed shots and brilliant use of slow motion sequences, the film is a flat out triumph for Director Ramsay. The obvious use of red as a dominant colour is clear, however what is not so clear, even with repeated viewings, are the tiny nuances and subtleties soaked within the many narrative strands. There are many segments of scenes with little or no audio, except perhaps something indistinct in the background and many scenes cleverly segue between present day and flashback and vice versa. The archery targets for pupils segment is utterly brilliant.To bring such towering performances from her actors is a wonderful credit to the Director as despite the at times difficult to watch scenes, you are so engaged with every character, accepting of their frailties and faults. I've selected the following two very brief scenes out of so many, as trademark scenes from the film:

Eva, with a constantly crying baby Kevin in the pram, gets blessed relief from standing still in a busy road, a loud pneumatic drill for company. Just a stunning, simple scene that paints a thousand words for the audience.

The iconic image of the movie: An exasperated Eva, hiding from someone, the world at large even, inside a local store.

Eva - Concentrating mainly on the "present day" scenes so as not to hint at possible spoilers, Tilda Swinton is again on Oscar worthy form, and so criminally overlooked. Seeking redemption and to make sense of the world that surrounds her Swinton is mesmerising in every scene. She gives absolutely everything in every scene you can't help but "pull" for her as she deals with a rapidly changing life and the crushing impact her relationships have on her. Told to "rot in hell you fucking bitch" very early on, crashing against an early happy episode in the film sets the tone, as do the lonely walks amongst dancing ballerinas and silent "staring" conversations with her son. Her scenes with an excellent John C Reilly as husband Franklin are a joy, an actress and actor at the top of their professions. To be so uncomfortable around her own son is heartbreaking and brilliantly portrayed, as is their last embrace.
Kevin - Again, specifically concentrating on the teenage Kevin (though Jasper Newell astounds as the younger Kevin) Ezra Miller is perfectly portrayed as per picture opposite, dour, cold and very distant. A semi permanent sinister smile just adds to the film's overwhelming sense of tension, expectation and dread. His first appearance arrives via a Television interview (it's not clear whether this is real or part of Eva's nightmares) as Kevin narrates "You wake up, or you watch TV. You get in your car, you listen to the radio. You go to your little job or your little school, but you don't hear about that on the 6 O'Clock News. Why? Because nothing is really happening and you go home and watch some more TV or if it's a fun night you go out, you watch a movie. It's got so bad that half the time the people on TV, inside the TV, they're watching TV. And what are all these people watching? People like me". Ezra Miller's brilliant performance is summed up perfectly by a late scene as he stands on the balcony of the family home, bare chested, in almost a Bruce Lee like pose. With Franklin apologising for him overhearing a fractious conversation with Eva, of not taking their comments out of context, Kevin responds "Why would I not know the context. I am the context". Another heart breaking performance in a film redolent in them.

With a sublime (what else?) musical score from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and an eclectic mix of songs "Nobody's Child" and "Ham & Eggs" by Lonnie Donegan, through to "Everyday" from Buddy Holly and Wham's "Last Christmas", this film is a heart breaking triumph from start to finish. Executive Produced with love and affection from the Director, it's main star Tilda Swinton and Steven Soderbergh, this is the third in a hopefully long line of classic feature film's from Lynne Ramsay.

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