Monday, May 19, 2014

The Films of Lynne Ramsay: An Introduction

Considering the other directors I have done a retrospective series on – Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Joel & Ethan Coen, Jim Jarmusch – the choice of Lynne Ramsay as the next one may strike some as a little strange. She doesn’t have the profile of those other filmmakers – or the number of films on her resume, which at the moment is just three features and four shorts over the last 18 years. So why did I pick Ramsay? A few reasons really. Recently, when I wrote a piece about the Bechdel test, and how I would prefer that we spend more energy complaining about the lack of female writers and directors rather than obsessing over a film passes a simple test that doesn’t ensure representation, I mentioned that Ramsay is probably my favorite female filmmaker working right now. That’s true, but it even surprised me somewhat that I came to that conclusion – and not say Sofia Coppola, Sarah Polley, Kathryn Bigelow, Andrea Arnold or Claire Denis (to throw out five names that easily could lay claim to the same, admittedly meaningless, title). Ramsay’s mantle pretty much rested on only one film – 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin – which I loved more than most did. I had never seen her short work or even her 1999 feature debut Ratcatcher – and hadn’t revisited her 2002 film Movern Callar since I saw it in theaters more than a decade ago. Perhaps saying that Ramsay was my favorite female filmmaker working right now was a bit of an overstatement – when I really should have said that in We Need to Talk About Kevin – she had made my favorite film in recent years directed by a woman.

All of this led me to pick Ramsay when I made a conscious decision to pick a female filmmaker to do a brief retrospective on. Women still are grossly underrepresented behind the camera, and that needs to change. Ramsay, who hopefully will not have her career derailed because of a dispute that saw her leave her latest film right before shooting was to begin (and the media firestorm, which included some blatantly sexist remarks against Ramsay), because she strikes me as just the type of female filmmaker the cinema world needs right now.

I remember a few years ago, having a conversation with another (male) film buff, who complained that female filmmakers make films that aren’t very visually interesting. That they concentrate too much on writing and performance, and not enough on how a film looks and feels. This was a ridiculous claim at the time  – just think of the distinctive visual films of those five female filmmakers above for example, or look back through cinema history to the like of Chantal Ackerman, Jane Campion, Ida Lupino or hell, even Leni Riefenstahl for further proof. I know what he was talking about – it’s the same thing Nicole Holofcener is always hit with when she makes a film – like last year’s Enough Said, which some complained was “too sitcom-ish” – proving, if nothing else, that they don’t watch many sitcoms.

Even if it were true, than Ramsay wouldn’t fit into that narrowly defined role set out by this other guy. Ramsay is the very definition of a filmmaker who shows, not tells – even in something like We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was a very “literary” book, that Ramsay turned into a very “cinematic” movie.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough in this introduction. Let’s get to the first actual post – about Ramsay’s three short films made before her debut feature.


  1. Morvern Callar is one of my favorites..really want to watch that one again. The music, Samantha

  2. The review of that one is up now, so you'll want to check that out. I loved the movie much more this time through then back in 2003.