From what I have seen of Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay’s films, they are indeed “Rough and Tumble,” and perhaps not the most uplifting films you’ll ever see. But they are challenging and provocative; an upcoming Walker Art Center film series focuses on Ramsay’s filmography, beginning this Friday with her highly acclaimed new film We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was up for the prestigious Palme d’Or award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Ramsay is an important contemporary filmmaker, even if she’s only directed three full-length films in 19 years, and her films deserve attention—especially on the big screen. Other films in the series will include a double feature of early shorts from the late 90s and Ramsay’s first feature, Ratcatcher (screening Saturday, February 11). Concluding the series is her 2002 gem Morvern Callar (screening Wednesday, February 15), featuring a stunning performance by Samantha Morton (Oscar nominated for Woody Allen’s 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown and Jim Sheridan’s 2004 In America).
Receiving its local premiere in “Rough and Tumble” is We Need to Talk About Kevin (opening theatrically on March 2), based on Lionel Shriver’s best-selling novel from 2003. The movie is impressive on many levels, from Ramsay’s direction to the screenplay to the musical score (performed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood) to the dark canvas of Seamus McGarvery’s cinematography, but many have noted—and I concur—that the film should be seen primarily for Tilda Swinton’s breathtaking performance as Eva, the mother of Kevin, who can’t seem to handle his disturbing behavior throughout his life, even as a young boy.
Kevin (played by a scary and meticulous Ezra Miller as a teenager) has been committing unspeakable acts of violence and who knows no boundaries when Eva tries to contain him, without much help from Kevin’s dad (John C. Reilly, cast against type). Ramsay evokes shades of the horrible high school shootings from Columbine in 1999, crafting a story underlined with anxiety, fear, and suspense from its haunting opening scenes to its chilling finale. While We Need to Talk About Kevin may not be everyone’s cup of tea for entertainment, Swinton is spectacular in an unflinching role (she should have been nominated for an Oscar). Even scenes of her at work, after the aftermath of events that take place in the film, are hard to watch as she is dealing with her personal situations surrounded by people who can’t even look or talk to her. The mounting tension from these scenes leads a further examination of how do people cope with horror, loss and further proof of how to move on with life after a tragedy.
Ramsay’s second feature, Morvern Callar, has some similarities to Kevin. Both are original features, but it does have another female lead performance—by Samantha Morton—that many won’t soon forget. Morvern Callar (Morton) wakes up on Christmas Day to find her writer boyfriend has died due to an apparent suicide. When she realizes that he has finished a manuscript, she takes his name off the title page and replaces it with her own. She sends off the manuscript and decides to take off a personal journey of self-discovery with her best friend as they leave Scotland and head off to Ibiza. Ramsay’s film takes its time, and at times it feels very meandering, but that is by design as we are seduced by the story and are left with many emotional swings. Morvern Callar is based on a novel by Alan Warner, and Ramsay breaks some rules in telling a story with no crucial or steady narrative. At times, there are stretches with no dialogue, leaving us wondering what really is going on, it slowly starts to become a mystery what Morvern will do next.
Image: We Need to Talk About Kevin, courtesy Walker Art Center