Wednesday, September 03, 2008


DIR: Lynne Ramsay
14 minutes

Lynne Ramsay has crafted two amazing feature length films - Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar.
But before those she made three short films, Kill the Day, Small Deaths and Gasman.

Gasman won Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Fest (Jury Prize), the BAFTA Awards (Scotland), and the Atlantic Film Fest. It was also nominated for Best Short Film at the BAFTA Awards and the Cannes Film Fest (Golden Palm).

Gasman is a visually fascinating, turning the mundane into the beautiful. A fascination with the beautiful ugliness of the working class landscape and post industrial Scotland pervades her work. Here we are introduced to her unique way of viewing the world from the very beginning. The short begins in close ups. Everything fills the screen and there is little concentration on a central action. Through small visual clues we start to compose the story as we watch it. There is a little girl and a little boy. There is christmas music. The girl gets dressed. The boy 'snows' sugar on his toy car and plays with it. There is a mother, hurrying them along. Items and objects clue us into this setting as a working class (middle to lower?) home... ironing boards, kitchen counters, clothes, carpets, cooking ware. Never once do we see a face. We hear only voices. This likely small place is huge in our screen. The size things are to a child. Then a face, a little girl is pushed through the neck of a dress. Consequently, she is important to us. Her brother and her are rushed out to their father, who waits outside.

The approach in visuals almost reverses as they go to what we have now surmised is a function of some sort. The landscape is vast and littered with shapes of buildings in the background and train yards in the foreground. It is truely run down and though I know this is Scotland by the accents, it could easily be the Pennsylvanian post industrial wasteland I grew up in.

Along the way, they pick up two more children. We learn that this is the father's other family. Our main characters' dopplegangers. The brother and sister ask "who are they?" They obviously don't know or understand. Our little girl is not happy. She accepts her counterpart at first and a simple close up hints as to why. She's got the nicer clothes. These new children may be from an even lower rung of the social ladder.

We arrive at a Christmas party. The children are everywhere, the parents (mostly men... or all men?) are drinking, and the christmas decorations are secondary.
The fact that it's Christmas is only background, it almost doesn't matter. We watch the fun detached, like they're another species as the many children play and interact. We feel glimpses of our own childhood memories, warm indoors, christmas lights, children we haven't met before but are thrown into playing with them. Then, when daughter #2 decides to sit on daddy's lap, our girl becomes territorial. Pulling hair and arguing over Daddy.

Soon after the fight, we leave with our extended family. The boys still seem indifferent to each other, but our girl squeezes her opponent's hand too tightly, making her cry. Dad tries to console, but is barely effective. Perhaps showing us why he's got at least one family that is separated from him. They reunite with mother #2 and hand off the doppelgangers. And in one final moment, our girl holds up a rock and considers throwing it at them. This other, invading family, who wants to claim her Daddy. She looks back at her Dad and something inside changes, she throws her rock to the ground.

Normally I hate such a 'book report' approach to analyzing a film. But to me, this film merits it. It's all about the finely crafted tiny moments, created deliberately and with the purpose of enhancing this nostalgic, melancholic film in which nothing happens but yet so much happens. It's almost completely devoid of traditional shots and editing, not to mention dialogue. It's a child's world where the inconsequential is huge, the emotions are gigantic and we never really understand what the adults are up to.

Ramsay has an amazing ability to transport us to another world. A world grounded in social realism. It's foreign and familiar at the same time. I recommend seeing any of her works, including her music video for the Doves' Black and White Town, which is like a brief taste of her approach to filmmaking.


Jeremy said...

"beautiful ugliness"

That is some contradiction you have there.

Beauty in the ugliness... it's so satisfying to see because it means you don't have to feel so sorry for someone else. They have beauty the same as you and I do. Quirks. That's what they are.

Working-class people are quirkier than upper-class machines. I like it.

Middento said...

I love this short. The moment at the end is transcendent, of innocence lost and adulthood right around the bend of the tracks. If you're interested in a similar one in tone, one of my absolute favorite shorts is The Most Beautiful Man in the World, which I discovered the first time I taught this class. (Read the comments with the posting as well, which turned into a heated discussion during class.)