1999 was a great year to be a film lover. Certain titles, to name just a few, from The Matrix, Three Kings, Boys Don’t Cry, The Six Sense, Magnolia, The Iron Giant, Being John Malkovich, The Blair Witch Project, and Fight Club excited and challenged audiences 20 years ago, and have never let up.
A pivotal moment at the multiplex, these idiosyncratic and stylistic creations lunged towards the new millennium with wry grins, nervous energy, and reinvention. In other words, not your typical prestige Oscar bait.
And so, as the old guard passed the celluloid baton to the young and hungry upstarts, 1999 graduated a new breed. Anointed visionaries who would become film gods in years to come, be it Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher to a young photographer-turned-director out of Scotland named Lynne Ramsay.
With TIFF Bell Lightbox’s lovingly curated 1999 Movies at the Millennium series (running from Jan 11 – Feb 10) Ramsay’s debut Ratcatcher (Playing tomorrow night at TIFF Bell Lightbox) sits perfectly alongside the aforementioned lot. A unblinking look into ambiguity and the surreal essence of childhood, the film centres on 1973 Glasgow as ten-year-old James (William Eadie) accidentally drowns his friend Ryan as they play in a backyard canal.
From there, the film offers an unshakable command of imagery. The city, crippled by a garbage strike, overflows with filth, vermin, and violence – which becomes all consuming for James’ family and the hopeless souls that fill out the rest of the screen.
An unsentimental portrait, Ramsay’s directional technique is nevertheless as a keen, respectful observer, with her naturalistic eye split between Glaswegian decay and golden-hued countryside’s. The results remain hauntingly poetic.
Today, best known for her heavyweight art-house pictures such as We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay’s striking debut unquestionably set the tone for her inimitable body of work and place in cinematic lore. As for 1999 itself, with twenty years gone, the past has rarely looked so fresh and original. In fact, we’re still waiting for an encore.