Glaswegian filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s uniquely poetic and powerfully personal directorial style – involving arresting images, vivid details and evocative sound productions that lack the frequent dialogue and explicit storylines of conventional films – sensitively and adeptly portrays her intensely recurring themes of sorrow, guilt and death. Through the lens of children and young people, Ramsay constructs the overwhelmingly and candidly unsettling world of her films that has persistently landed her the title of one of the most celebrated British filmmakers of her generation.
Ramsay’s three inaugural short films – Small Deaths (1996), Kill the Day (1996) and Gasman (1998) – laid the initial foundation for her esoteric and atypical cinematographic approach, framing each scene as a kind of digital painting by which the magnified pictures and sounds fuse to form a deeply emotive poetic image. Ramsay’s Cannes Prix de Jury-winning graduation film, Small Deaths, chronicling three significant events in the life of a young Scottish girl, Anne Marie (Lynne Ramsay Jr and Genna Gillian), consistently presents an exceedingly close camera-lens focus on the actress’s grief-stricken face, as she witnesses her parent’s marital strife and the callous games of the neighbourhood children and her friends that penetratingly and compellingly portrays the film’s deeply despondent sentiments.
Ramsay’s Clermont Ferrand Prix du Jury-winning Kill the Day, depicting a debilitatingly monotonous and psychologically frenzied day in the life of heroin addict James Gallagher (James Ramsay) recently released from jail and Gasman, another Cannes Prix de Jury-winning tale following two young siblings, Lynne (Lynne Ramsay Jr) and Steven (Martin Anderson), who attend a Christmas party with their father and encounter two young familiar looking children are both poignantly candid films that equally possess Ramsay’s unique cinematographic quality. Indeed, the films’ central sentiments of grief, loneliness and confusion are portrayed through the exquisitely detailed shots of Gallagher’s hopeless reveries in his squalid room and the parallel images between Lynne and her estranged sibling that makes in difficult for her to conceive of the true nature of her family life.
The first of Ramsay’s feature films, Ratcatcher (1999), a critically acclaimed drama screened in the Un Certain Regard Section at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, extends Ramsay’s evocative magnification of children’s perspectives in film in geographically close-to-home in Glasgow, the summer of 1973. James (William Eadie), a 12-year-old boy growing up in one of the city’s squalid housing schemes set to be demolished due to a major housing re-development program, witnesses the drowning of his friend following a play fight and believes himself to be implicated in the misfortune. The film follows the sensitive young boy’s journey as he struggles to come to terms with his guilt and emotional pre-pubescent maturation, particularly through an emphasis on the inversion of Ramsay’s trademark detailed shots that forgo adjunctive details in order to simply and more sensitively invoke the poignant sentiments of James’s psychological changes.
Signalling Ramsay’s foray into psychological thrillers, her follow up feature, Morvern Callar (2002), a BAFTA award-winning drama based on Alan Warner’s eponymous 1995 novel, depicts the sordid machinations of Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton), a young supermarket worker who uses her boyfriend’s suicide to ameliorate her own lifestyle, selling the manuscript of his unpublished novel under her own name and using the large payoff to fund a hedonistic holiday to Almería, Costa de Sol, with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott). Ramsay invokes the underlying grief that Morvern attempts to escape through her decadent antics using similar techniques as in Ratcatcher, by subtly conveying the film’s evocative sentiments through a detraction of the wider shot, an expansion of visual detail and a limited use of dialogue, consequently increasing the intensity of the sentiments evoked in the visual details that are presented.
Similarly, Ramsay’s most recent feature-length film, We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), a darker drama exploring the difficulties of motherhood through the deeply strained relationship between a socially ostracized mother, Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton) and her mass-murderer son Kevin Katchadourian (Ezra Miller), portrays the characters’ dark sentiments and ruptured family life through a slicing of the photographic shots by which the father is constantly placed on the edge of the frame, conveying his emotional distance from his wife and troubled son. The Scottish director made a temporary return to short films with her BAFTA-winning black-and-white experimental work Swimmer (2012), one of four unique co-commissions created in celebration of the 2012 Summer Olympics that evocatively depicts a young man swimming across the waters of Britain, while delving into the thoughts of strangers he passes by on the banks before sinking below the surface of the water.
Ramsay’s latest production due for release in 2017, You Were Never Really Here, a revenge-fantasy drama adapted from Jonathan Ames’ eponymous novel that follows a war veteran who devotes himself to saving exploited sex-traffic workers, signals the director’s continuance with dramatic thrillers directed towards middle-of-the-road palates, markedly more accommodating than her earlier highly esoteric works. Undoubtable, the virtuoso’s foray into mainstream productions will further harden her uncompromisingly candid visual style and deeply immersive sensorial techniques that have gripped audiences for decades – the power in Ramsay’s films is impossible to dilute.