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flick pick | Ratcatcher 1999
Directed + written by: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: William Eadie, Tommy Flanagan, Mandy Matthews
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama

Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, serious, whimsical,
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5

Plot synopsis In 1970s Glasgow, a pre-teen boy named James lives in a shabby, cramped, rat-infested one-room apartment with his overworked but affectionate mother, his alcoholic deadbeat father, and his two sisters, both of whom treat him with disdain. He’s playing with his friend Ryan by the banks of the murky, rather polluted canal that runs in front of their apartment building when a fairly ordinary horsing-around-type squabble takes a terrible turn, and Ryan drowns. Although the death seems accidental, James feels so guilty that he tells no one that he was there, though the secret eats away at him. One afternoon, he’s staring at the spot where Ryan died when he sees a slightly older girl – bedraggled, bespectacled – being taunted by four boys. The girl, Margaret Anne, has a complicated relationship with the boys: she hates them, but lets them use her for sex nonetheless. It’s after one of these post gang-bang sessions that the boys steal poor myopic Margaret Anne’s glasses, then gleefully and mean-spiritedly toss them in the water. She’s too blind to see where they’ve landed, and asks James if he can locate them; James, leery of the muddy depths of the canal, lies and answers no. Despite the fib, James and Margaret Anne gradually become good friends, whiling away their afternoons together, seeking comfort in each other when life gets them down. But when he’s not spending time with Margaret Anne, or his slow-witted, animal-loving oddball friend Kenny, James dreams of a day when he and his family will be able to move away to one of the lovely, new homes he’s seen being built in the pastoral suburbs.

Review Watching Ratcatcher feels a lot like getting into someone else’s head: in this case, the lice-infested head of awkward young James. There’s just something about the way Lynne Ramsay frames her shots – in perfect, pristine photographic compositions that leave you always wondering what’s going on just beyond the edges of the screen -- that makes every image we see feel very, very specific and totally subjective, like you’re seeing this world from the inside-out, not the other way around, the way we usually do as movie viewers. Of course, James lives in conditions of such filth and abject poverty that it’s not always a particularly pleasant experience to see what the world looks like through his eyes. He and his friends play amongst the garbage and detritus as if it were a playground and not a giant dump (the movie is set at the time of a garbage-collecting strike); they swing dead rats by their tails like they were yo-yos, and not potentially disease-carrying vermin; that canal around which they spend so much of their days loafing about looks a bit like a giant open sewer.  But James is still mostly a child at heart, with all the dreams and optimism of any kid his age, which means that he can sometimes see small moments of beauty and hope in this bleak little universe that seems to have run down, beaten up and broken all the adults around him. A random bus ride to the middle of nowhere reveals a budding development of shiny new houses – empty of both furnishings and people, it’s just begging for James to explore. He roams in and around one of the houses-in-progress, until he comes to a big, broad hole in the wall where a window will someday be. The hole frames a wide expanse of cornfield so lush and gold and never-ending peaceful that it looks too perfect to be real; when James climbs out into that beautiful picture world, it’s like he’s walked straight into a dream, or heaven, or both. It’s these little moments of surreal beauty that makes Ratcatcher so different from other movies that portray a similar world of impoverished children: unlike so many others of this genre, Ratcatcher shows a genuine wonder and amazement and love for the characters it portrays.   
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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