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Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Produced in 1999
Main Language - English
Mandy Matthews, Tommy Flanagan
There's an old American Music Club song called Rise that includes the line: “Tell me how to make something beautiful flash before your eyes.” I mention it here because - with Ratcatcher (and also with her second film Morvern Callar) - it seems to be writer / director Lynne Ramsay's plan: she's concerned with beauty, yes, odd beauty, but she's also fascinated by the chase, fascinated by how beauty comes to manifest itself.
This may not be immediately obvious: set on a Glasgow housing estate in the 1970s at the height of a strike by the local refuse collectors (picture binbags piled higher than the first floor flats and rats running wild), Ratcatcher opens with young Ryan Quinn spinning in his mother's net curtains. Within ten minutes, Quinn is fighting young James Gillespie (the charismatic heart of the film) in the canal, a fight that ends with his death. But nobody knows the death to be anything but misadventure - young James Gillespie doesn't say a word. The death sets the tone: as a viewer, you try to gauge how James feels about what he's done but it isn't clear (and given the similar position occupied by Samantha Morton in Morvern Callar, it's pretty obvious Ramsay enjoys exploiting moral ambiguity to the max). Despite what he has done, you kind of like James. He and his family live in squalor, but - they do their best, they get by.
In many ways, Ramsay could be said to share ground with Ken Loach (they're both interested in the bottom rung) but - crucially - Ramsay abhores the prosaic: she wants these quietly desperate people to get away (and they do: James' mum and dad dance in the dark to Frank and Nancy Sinatra; James plays havoc on a new housing estate in the countryside at the end of the bus route; even a mouse flies away to the moon). Like Shane Meadows' exquisitely under-rated A Room for Romeo Brass, Ramsay's Ratcatcher rings with intimate, personal truth - it feels heartfelt and genuine and it looks sumptuous: there is beauty here, in the sight of young Lynne Ramsay Jr sitting on bin bags and eating jam butties, in the way James tugs at the hole in the toe of his mam's tights as she sleeps.
Yeah life can be bad, Ramsay seems to be saying, but there's always room for something tender. You follow that line of thinking, there's always room for a film like Ratcatcher.
Peter Wild on 1st August 2003
Author of 99 reviews
Ramsey's full-length debut, a coming-of-age tale set during a 1970s Glasgow refuse collectors' strike, is a work of often breathtaking magical realism, finding great poetry amongst the bin bags and soaring in almighty, childlike flights of the imagination.
Length: 96 mins
Cat No: P8969DVD
Format: DVD Colour