CANNES, May 29 — Lynne Ramsay was the “nearly” woman of this year’s Cannes film festival.
In a year when actresses were never more vocal about the need for more female directors in male-dominated Hollywood, and many critics predicted she would be the first woman to win its top Palme d’Or prize outright, she went home with only a joint best screenplay prize.
Had she won, she would have also made history by being the second British winner in a row after Ken Loach lifted the Palme last year for I, Daniel Blake.
Her ultraviolent You Were Never Really Here had got ecstatic reviews when it premiered Saturday, and its star Joaquin Phoenix went on to win best actor.
Many critics confidently declared she would become only the second woman to take Cannes’ top prize after Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993 — who had to share it with Chinese director Chen Kaige.
Ramsay cuts a very rare figure in the film industry as a shy working-class Scottish woman.
“I grew up in Glasgow and there weren’t a lot of options for the future,” she once said.
“If someone had said to me, ‘You’re going to be a film director,’ I would have laughed.”
Yet Ramsay has never shied away from exploring the darkest corners of society in films that have dealt with prostitution, psychopathic children and paedophilia.
Best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin, her new thriller You Were Never Really Here is no less brutal, starring Phoenix as a psychologically scarred war veteran turned hitman trying to rescue a girl from a prostitution ring.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph described it as the “feel-worst” film at Cannes in a year where feel-good movies were thin on the ground.
All the same it handed Ramsay a five-star review for her “bleak psychological artistry”.
The 47-year-old film-maker, who studied photography in Edinburgh before going to Britain’s National Film and Television School, said her latest film reflected a deep sense of anxiety in today’s tumultuous world.
“It’s a sort of traumatising time at the moment and I just like to explore characters, like their flaws in their beauty,” she told reporters at Cannes.
Self-effacing in public, Ramsay has made a career of hard-hitting films shot in her unique dream-like style.
Her first film Ratcatcher (1999) was a bleakly beautiful drama about the poorest in her home town, chronicling life on a grim 1970s housing estate during a strike by rubbish collectors.
She followed up three years later with Morvern Callar (2002), the tale of a young woman who responds to her boyfriend’s suicide by dismembering his body and passing off the novel he left behind as her own work.
Both films screened at Cannes, but it was her 2011 psychological drama We Need to Talk About Kevin — about a mother struggling to understand her teenage son’s murder rampage — that first put Ramsay in the running for the Palme d’Or.
For Tilda Swinton, who starred in the critically acclaimed adaptation of the novel by Lionel Shriver, Ramsay is “one of those rare directors who creates the kind of films that just would not be there if she didn’t make them.”
Co-written with Ramsay’s then-husband, the writer Rory Stewart Kinnear, the film was a breakthrough for young actor Ezra Miller who gave a spine-chilling performance as the eponymous Kevin.
Miller described her to The Guardian newspaper as “a punk rock lady, but also a fastidious perfectionist” who is “engaged with every aspect of the shoot to an almost hyperactive degree”.
Ramsay has long been a Cannes darling, having previously won prizes with two of her short films, Small Deaths (1996) and Gasman (1998), as well as serving on the competition’s jury in 2013. — AFP