First Night: A grown-up vision of growing up

`Ratcatcher' Edinburgh Film Festival
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The Independent Online
AS THE credits roll for Ratcatcher, the film that opened the 53rd Edinburgh Film Festival last night, a young boy plays against a window. Dreamily twisting himself up in a net curtain, he cocoons himself in another world.

Then his mother arrives to give him a sharp wake-up call. She wants him to come to the shops. Instead, Ryan runs off to play with his friend James (William Eadie) beside the canal that runs past their grimy Glasgow tenement block. The boys scuffle before James pushes Ryan into the fetid water. All that surfaces is a scum of bubbles.

The quiet tragedy that opens Ratcatcher is typical of the offbeat perspective adopted by the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay in her first feature film.

Set during the refuse collectors' strike of the Seventies, Ratcatcher unfolds through the eyes of 12-year-old James. Alienated by guilt, he becomes withdrawn from his family, and drawn back to the canal.

There, he forms a relationship with Margaret-Anne, a gawky 14-year-old whose loneliness leads her into casual sex with a local gang. Escaping to the countryside one day, James finds a half-built house. In what may be a dream, he sees through its unfinished window an idyllic cornfield stretching into the distance.

In its spare, unsentimental observation of childhood, Ratcatcher recalls Ken Loach's Kes, but Ramsay eschews kitchen-sink realism for a lyrical, almost impressionistic style of film-making.

Her fragmentary story-telling uses carefully composed close-ups to slowly piece together the jigsaw of James' world. Shot in a palette of sludgy green and yellow, the film elegantly captures the texture of everyday relationships: James's father is smartly groomed for the pub, while the rest of the family scratch away at their nits.

As a coming-of-age tale, Ratcatcher refuses the saccharine voice-over of Hollywood rites of passage movies in favour of a more ambiguous narrative. Half realism, half reverie, Ramsay's film shows feral children chasing rats through the mounting rubbish but also finds moments of tenderness and unexpected humour such as when James's animal-loving friend Kenny sends his pet mouse into space tied to a helium balloon.

Ramsay draws wonderfully natural performances from the non-professional child actors and Eadie is particularly fine as James, with his lean face and inscrutable eyes world-weary and naive at the same time.

Ratcatcher is the first Scottish film to open the Edinburgh Film Festival for 25 years. With it, Lynne Ramsay proves that homegrown talent can compete with anything on the world stage.