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Lynne Ramsay • Director

“I wanted to approach the kind of story you find in genre cinema in a different way”


- CANNES 2017: Scottish director Lynne Ramsay describes her film You Were Never Really Here, which has been warmly received by audiences at Cannes

Lynne Ramsay • Director
(© M. Petit / Festival de Cannes)

Addressing the international press just hours before the official screening, Lynne Ramsay, visibly feeling the pressure and a little reluctant to reveal the secrets of her craft, scattered a few clues to her new film, You Were Never Really Here [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Lynne Ramsay
film profile
, screening in competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. It’s a searingly brutal and superbly staged thriller, starring a magnificent Joaquin Phoenix, who has spoken of the fundamental role played by improvisation and experimentation during filming.

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You Were Never Really Here is a short film, with a runtime of just 95 minutes. Was that your original plan?
Lynne Ramsay: Yes. The basic philosophy was always to make a film that was compact and intense. There are times when a film needs to be longer, but not in this case. I didn’t want to bore the audience, the way some films of 150 minutes can. In general, everything was very quick; the production was very quick and the work was intense. I even thought that I might not have time to finish writing before shooting began, and so I wrote the script very quickly, but in the end things turned out fine. And every day of filming was full of surprises, to the point that I sometimes asked myself if I really knew what I was doing. But the film itself can answer that.

As you did in your first feature, Ratcatcher, you tackle the issue of trauma, and You Were Never Really Here is a quasi-experimental, hallucinatory film, with a non-linear narrative. What it is that fascinates you about this issue?
I think that most filmmakers have certain psychological perspectives and are interested in the question of the human condition. Personally, I enjoy getting to know my characters in depth; their beauty, their flaws and all their different facets. Also, while we were filming I felt like I was going through a post-traumatic episode myself, because the story makes such a powerful impact on the mind. 

Were you trying to convey the inner life of the principal character in visual form?
I’ve thought a great deal about that. There had to be a process of discovery. I paid a lot of attention to the way in which the main character is presented to us: we don’t know who he is, and so we try to work it out. I tried to tell the story through image.

Is the film an indirect homage to Taxi Driver?
Obviously, Taxi Driver is a magnificent film that approaches the genre in a very interesting way, but I didn’t really have that film in mind while I was shooting mine. Maybe there’s the odd reference here and there, but I didn’t slip them in on purpose. I was actually a big fan of genre films when I was young and so perhaps they’ve had some influence on me, but what I wanted to do is approach the kind of story you find in genre cinema in a different way.

The team has done a fantastic job with the music and the soundtrack.
I’ve always felt that sound was really important, even in my short films. Sometimes, production companies don’t really think about it or they don’t understand it, but I always imagine the music and the sound before I start filming, and for this film, I wanted to pay more attention to that than to the script. Jonny Greenwood is a terrific musician, and I’m so happy that he agreed to be a part of the film. He doesn’t compose in an intellectual way, but instinctively. The soundtrack is an amazing piece of work because it was completed in just five days.

The central character uses a hammer rather than a gun. Why?
Firstly, because that’s what happens in the book by Jonathan Ames, which I adapted for the film. Secondly, because it has an extraordinary cinematic impact: the character can come and go without making a sound. It also allowed me to portray the violence that is part of his character — and we’ve seen guns in so many films that I’m bored of them now.

The film was funded by Amazon. What do you think about the whole issue of platforms versus the cinema?
As a filmmaker, I believe that films should be shown on a big screen. But my contact at Amazon is a great film lover.

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(Translated from French)

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