October 2019, arsenal cinema

Lynne Ramsay Retrospective


Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (*1969) has made a name for herself with her uncompromising work within the more artistically-minded realm of contemporary cinema. Her films grapple with the dark depths of childhood and adolescence, dysfunctional family structures, and traumatic events. Their main interest is the inner lives of their characters, even as they sidestep classical psychology. Whether in the working-class milieu of Scotland, American middle-class suburbia or the New York underworld, the focus is always on guilt, loss or farewells and the lasting impression left by the parent-child relationship. Their approach to their literary antecedents is unusual, their narration elliptical, and their images are often fragmentary. The social realist basis of the films always leaves enough space for moments of magic and lyricism. The use of music is particularly notable, which equally points beyond the social realities being represented. The retrospective at Arsenal brings together Lynne Ramsay’s feature films and shorts from 1996–2017. All four features received their world premiere at the Cannes film festival and have received numerous prizes, with such unusual actors as Samantha Morton, Tilda Swinton, Joaquin Phoenix, and John C. Reilly to be found in the leading roles. Unfortunately Lynne Ramsay has had to cancel her visit to Berlin.

RATCATCHER (United Kingdom/France 1999, 12. & 23.10.) A working-class housing estate in Glasgow at the start of the 70s. The refuse collectors are on strike, there are stinking plastic rubbish sacks lying around everywhere, and the rats are multiplying. Tom Jones sings on the television, the mother dances to jive music and combs out lice, the father drinks in the pub, and the sisters are a constant annoyance. After twelve-year-old James feels guilt for the death of his friend who drowned in the canal, he looks at his family with different eyes and distances himself from his surroundings. His sense of being lost grows alongside his yearning for another life; at the end of a bus line he finds contentment. Ramsay’s debut film is a coming-of-age drama that connects social observations with moments of idiosyncratic lyricism and surreal fantasy – like the lunar journey of a white mouse set to the music from Terrence Malick’s "Badlands".

GASMAN (United Kingdom 1997, 12. & 23.10.) This short, expressive film is the story of a loss of childhood innocence in 70s Glasgow: a little girl is made to understand with a mixture of horror and disbelief that her father has been living a double life and that home and family aren’t what they claim to be.

MORVERN CALLAR (United Kingdom/Canada 2002, 13. & 22.10.) Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) is in her early 20s and works in a supermarket in the Scottish provinces. When she finds her boyfriend’s dead body in the living room, she continues to live her life as before and conceals his death. What he leaves behind are a lighter, a mixtape (which serves as the soundtrack), and an unpublished novel, which she offers to a publisher under her own name, who promptly offers to buy it from her for a large sum of money. A trip to Spain with her best friend becomes a turning point – she closes the door from the outside and leaves her home behind. With the titular novel as its starting point, an intensive impression of how life feels is conveyed, via trance-like images and songs (including by Can, The Velvet Underground, and Nancy Sinatra).

KILL THE DAY (United Kingdom 1996, 13. & 22.10.) A short study of a junkie, narrated in fragments and with few words: killing time, getting money, buying drugs, prison, withdrawal, good intentions, and the temptation of relapsing. Life as a dead end – with images of happy childhood memories at the river and in the cornfields.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (United Kingdom/USA 2011, 15. & 20.10.) At the beginning, the catastrophe has already happened: 17-year-old Kevin has carried out a massacre at his high school with a bow and arrow. Associatively and combining different levels of time in non-chronological fashion, Ramsay’s adaptation of the novel of the same name shifts between psychological drama and horror film to tell the story of what happened before and after the attack from the perspective of Eva (Tilda Swinton), mother of the perpetrator. Once a successful travel author, her life as a wife and mother becomes a nightmare – with child that never stops screaming and takes on increasingly demonic traits. This is far from a happy home. Treated with hostility after having raised a monster, she tortures herself with the question of whether she failed and could have stopped the incomprehensible from happening. A portrait of the hell known as family, steeped in crimson.

SMALL DEATHS (GB 1996, 15. & 20.10.) Ramsay’s graduation short film at the National Film and Television School collects three snapshots from the childhood and adolescent of a girl from the Scottish working class – what looks like the harshest social realism is eventually revealed to be a “joke”.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (United Kingdom/USA/France 2017, 16. & 19.10.) Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a former soldier and war veteran, goes into service as a hitman. His weapon is a hammer. Having carried out his work, he takes care of his elderly mother on the edge of New York with intimacy and tenderness. After freeing the teenage daughter of a US senator from the clutches of a child prostitution ring, he ends up in the middle of political conspiracy, going from the hunter to the hunted. Unlike in action films, the violence takes place here offscreen. With asynchronous sound and image montage, the dissonant soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), and flashbacks to Joe’s traumatic past, memories of which keep flashing up in the present, Ramsay’s thriller is less concerned with tension than with the inner life of this taciturn oddball. And with the traces that violence leave behind in a person.

SWIMMER (United Kingdom 2012, 16. & 19.10.) This commission for the Olympic Games in London shows a man swimming through different waters in both the country and the city. It connects striking black-and-white images with lush sound design, consisting of music, literary quotes, and scraps of dialogue from what’s happening on the bank. (bik)

An event in collaboration with the DFFB.

arsenal cinema: Showcasing 
Helma Sanders-Brahms

07:00 pm Cinema 1

Deutschland, bleiche Mutter

*Deutschland, bleiche Mutter
FRG 1980 DCP 151 min

Introduced by Martin Koerber