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Ratcatcher: Criterion Collection (1999) - Movie Review

Ratcatcher: Criterion Collection

In 1992, the first feature film made by a Scottish woman was released. That was Margaret Tait with Blue Black Permanent. Seven years later, Lynne Ramsay became the second with her own feature debut, Ratcatcher. And what a debut film it is!

"It cannot be overstated how subtly beautiful this film really is"


From the opening seconds, you know that this film is led with a distinct and poetic vision, and then from the opening minutes, you also discover a film that is in no way confined by typical narrative conventions. Even 22 years after its initial release, Ramsay herself would admit that she is still not quite sure how they were able to get through the production of this film, but it is a wonderful gift for us that she did. Her freshman film is extraordinarily captivating, and despite its 1970’s setting, it feels absolutely timeless.

Glasgow, 1973. The residents of one of the poorest housing communities in Europe are patiently waiting to be re-housed as part of a re-development program. There’s no hot water and a scarcity of indoor plumbing and bathing facilities. Then, to top it all off, the garbage collectors have gone on strike, leaving communities with piles of trash that have taken over much of their front yards and the street, attracting countless rats to the area. These are the conditions that sensitive, twelve-year-old James (William Eadie) lives in.

Despite his surroundings, James, along with other kids in the neighborhood try to escape their reality in anyway that they can. But when James and friend Ryan Quinn (Thomas McTaggart) engage in some rough-house play, Ryan tragically drowns in a dirty, eerie canal. Concealing his involvement in the accident, Ratcatcher follows James as he struggles to deal with his immense guilt in a world that seems inescapable and can only be somewhat relieved in a budding friendship with the sexually abused Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen) and his own hopeful fantasies of the future.Ratcatcher: Criterion Collection

So powerfully evocative in such a small and rather grim story, Ramsay manages to perfectly balance the raw and candid elements with the quiet and sweet moments of relief and hope. She also does well not to dwell on tragedy, big or small, and she wonderfully sprinkles the film with sweet, subtle moments of tenderness that somehow translates so well for universal understanding. Ratcatcher is a rare kind of coming-of-age story that absolutely transcends the label of social realism, and is rather something deeply and distinctly poetic.

Things in the film that perhaps should feel out of place (i.e., a certain scene with a rat’s interesting journey) only add to the richness and depth of the film because of the confidence behind their inclusion. The fantastical elements also add to the mindful innocence and hopefulness of 12-year-old James, despite his surroundings. And the ambiguous ending is not at all unsatisfying, but rather benefits the film because of how thought-provoking it is.

It cannot be overstated how subtly beautiful this film really is. Ratcatcher seems like a project made by a filmmaker much more experienced than Ramsay certainly was when she came onto the scene with it. It is certainly one of the best feature film debuts of all time (at least in my humble opinion). And courtesy of the Criterion Collection (who always has such wonderful releases), you can simultaneously fall in love and be haunted by this film with their newly restored Blu-ray release.

5/5 stars

 

Ratcatcher: Criterion Collection

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
- October 19, 2021
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

In her breathtaking and assured debut feature, Lynne Ramsay creates a haunting evocation of a troubled Glasgow childhood. Set during Scotland’s national garbage strike of the mid-1970s, Ratcatcher explores the experiences of a poor adolescent boy as he struggles to reconcile his dreams and his guilt with the abjection that surrounds him. Utilizing beautiful, elusive imagery, candid performances, and unexpected humor, Ramsay deftly contrasts urban decay with a rich interior landscape of hope and perseverance, resulting in a work at once raw and deeply poetic.

Video:

Ratcatcher is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This new 4K restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with Pathé. The 35 mm original camera negative was scanned in 16-bit 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner at Silver Salt Restoration in London. The new restoration does wonders for a film so beautifully photographed. Ramsay’s unique poetic eyes are profoundly present in this new restoration.

Audio:

The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm magnetic track. Everything from the stomps and yells of children playing in the street to the soft brushes of a wheat field, this soundtrack will fully immerse you into the film.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

Everything extra that is included on the disc is enriching and delightful as we are taken through Ramsay’s filmmaking journey in both interviews and the inclusion of her poetic short films that preceded her Ratcatcher debut. Plus, the very thoughtful and intimate essays by Girish Shambu and Barry Jenkins will make you love the film even more. 

  • New interview with Ramsay from 2021 
  • Audio interview from 2020 with Alwin Küchler
  • Three award-winning short films by Ramsay: Small Deaths (1995), Kill the Day (1996), and Gasman (1997)
  • Interview with Ramsay from 2002
  • Trailer
  • Essays by film critic Girish Shambu and filmmaker Barry Jenkins

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 4/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

5/5 stars


Film Details

Ratcatcher: Criterion Collection

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
94 mins
Director
: Lynne Ramsay
Writer:
Lynne Ramsay
Cast:
Tommy Flanagan; Mandy Matthews; William Eadie
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:

Memorable Movie Quote: "Goodbye, Snowball!"
Theatrical Distributor:
First Look International
Official Site:
Release Date:
May 13, 1999
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 19, 2021.
Synopsis: An naïve young lad navigates the dirty squalid streets of 1973 Glasgow, and the poor youth around him.

Art

Ratcatcher: Criterion Collection

 

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