Celebrating female filmmakers: Lynne Ramsay
Glasgow-born filmmaker Lynne Ramsay is the writer and director of three full-length features and four short films released over the course of a 21-year-career. Ramsay’s fourth feature-length film, You Were Never Really Here, is due for release this summer and received rapturous applause at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Her previous features (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and the most widely known We Need to Talk About Kevin), share common themes of death, grief, and characters trapped in morbid circumstances and building on what’s becoming her signature cinematic style, she leans in on visual cues over dialogue. Ramsay explores the experience of being alive, regardless of gender – though issues relating to gender roles do implicitly play into her work.
Of her three features, two have women as a central protagonist. Samantha Morton plays Morvern – a role which won her Best Actress at the British Independent Film Award – and the inimitable Tilda Swinton plays Eva, Kevin’s mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin. The film explores motherhood and how it can jar with a woman’s own, sometimes hard-won, sense of identity. Though both Morvern and Eva face unusual circumstances – respectively, the suicide of a lover and a psychopathic, murderous child – their efforts to navigate the world and to find a place where they fit are entirely relatable.
Ramsay studied photography at Napier College, Edinburgh, before specialising in cinematography and direction at the National Film and Television School. This background clearly comes through in her films, which make cinematography the predominant storytelling device.
Despite the stoic mannerisms of her female characters, Ramsay’s cinematic techniques reveal their internal anguish. Camera shots close-in on visceral, often unsettling detail; a hangnail being picked at, or an insect scuttling in the dirt, the sound amplified to increase the intensity of the moment. This is just one of many cinematic techniques used to illustrate a character’s state of mind to hard-hitting, gut-churning effect.
Ramsay’s latest film, You Were Never Really Here, is an adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Ames. Starring Joaquin Pheonix, the film follows a veteran as he attempts to save a young girl, played by 14-year-old Ekaterina Samsonov, from a sex trafficking ring.
Based on her previous work, including the short films which launched her career, there is cause to expect much from Ramsay’s latest film. But whatever its merits and however it contributes to the conversation around portrayals of women in film, Ramsay’s career to date has already established her as one of the most significant and exciting female directors working today.