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Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsey) 2000

Ratcatcher, the first film from director Lynne Ramsey is it's far from sentimental despite its subject matter (young boy struggles against adversity in poverty stricken Scotland). Eschewing easy answers and gratification that the hero's plight is less than epidemic, it's basically the anti-Billy Elliot. There are several sequences in which we are taken into the mind of the lead. The film becomes a little bit transcendent here . The film speed is played with for the sake of emphasis on several occasions, to decent effect. The film is set during a garbage strike in early 70's Glasgow, which results in a display of countless gorgeous piles of trash. The filth in the film becomes intrinsic to the whole. There's a great shot of the lead's sister lounging on a pile of trash bags & a romantic delousing scene (!). The film's unique in that it doesn't try to make the character unfailingly likable. There's a death early on in the film, but it's not really about the death of innocence either, but more about grief and guilt being at odds with it. The film pretty adamantly doesn't allow its lead to come to lose his innocence. It keeps him cast in a light of youthful ignorance. He never learns the way the adult world works. For example, we never see where his sister goes after he sees her boarding a bus - we just know that she's leaving. In another film's context this would be an unresolved plot point, here it's the film's point. 

The film doesn't present reality, it presents the boy's version of reality. He is in a period of mourning, and it's interesting to see a film that does not shy away from that for most of its duration. Near the end, though the film does cheat a bit. Instead of giving the character a genuine catharsis, it allows the boy to literally wash away his sins and shifts the resolution of the film to something much more material than the resolution of his grief. This conclusive tidiness is definitely the biggest flaw of the film. There is some gorgeous imagery on display and a stellar score by Rachel Portman, and oddly the film is subtitled, even though the Scottish dialect is not very impenetrable. The film's a surprisingly assured and highly original directorial debut.

***1/2

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman