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Ratcatcher

Lynne Ramsay

Glasgow-born director Lynne Ramsay had already won two Cannes Jury Prizes and two BAFTAs for her short films when she came to direct her first (and arguably still best) feature film, Ratcatcher.

Set in an impoverished Glaswegian housing scheme in the early 1970s, the film tells the story of James, a 12-year-old boy whose family are waiting to be rehoused. Trying to escape from his drunk and abusive father, James and his best friend Ryan play near the local canal. But when Ryan drowns and James does nothing to save him, he finds himself overcome by guilt. His only solace comes from Margaret Anne, a sensitive kindred spirit who is hounded by the local bullies, and his own vivid imagination.

“…lyrical and poetic without ever lapsing into sentimentality.”

If this all sounds like a downer, Ramsay somehow manages to steer clear of the miserablism that mars so much British social realism. Instead, by placing the film almost entirely inside James’s head, and showing us his dreams and fantasies as well as the dark reality of his life, she creates something that manages to be lyrical and poetic without ever lapsing into sentimentality. Imagine Ken Loach’s Kes crossed with Robert Bresson’s heart-breaking Mouchette and infused with a whiff of surrealism and you’ll start to get a sense of what this extraordinary film is like. Ratcatcher, first released in November 1999, was one of the first indigenous Scottish films shown at DCA, and twenty years on it is still one of the very best.