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Kill the Day (1997)


Main image of Kill the Day (1997)
16mm, 18 min, colour
DirectorLynne Ramsay
Production CompanyHoly Cow Films; Lazennec Tout Court
ProducerGavin Emerson
ScreenplayLynne Ramsay
CinematographyAlwin K├╝chler

Cast: James Ramsay (James Gallagher)

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An ex-drug addict reflects on his life in and out of prison.

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The young Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay's second short film shares many of the same preoccupations of her feature debut Ratcatcher (UK/France, 1999). While both focus on subjects that fall under the heading of social realism, Ramsay eschews the naturalistic trappings of this genre in favour of close studies of her characters' inner worlds, blurring the boundaries between reality and dream life. But where the imagistic poetry of Ratcatcher figured in an off-kilter coming-of-age story, the more paranoid and pessimistic Kill the Day has a memory-obsessed, junkie jailbird for its protagonist. It implicitly poses the question, 'where does one go when innocence has long since been lost?'

The film is structured around crystallised moments of emotion that emerge from the shifting mental landscape of James, played with lean ambivalence by James Ramsay (a Lynne Ramsay regular). The direction foregrounds recurring visual motifs, such as a disc-like pattern that suggests paranoia about surveillance. Sound is used carefully to stress the stillness and stagnation of James's world; the oppressive droning of a fly bookends the journey into James's thoughts. These deft touches have the double effect of situating the viewer within the film's achronology while dislodging the protagonist from his own story. As he lies in bed pondering his fate, James would appear to ask himself not 'who' but simply, 'where am I?'

As in Ratcatcher - which also contained a fetid body of water heavy with metaphor - guilt is something transferred onto the unknown, a dark canal one can slip into without warning. Explanations remain elusive, partly by design and partly because of a few false notes struck along the way. Ramsay had at this point not quite found the lightness of touch that made Morvern Callar (UK/Canada, 2002) - about the partner of a suicide victim - a film of such unknown pleasures, and here idyllic scenes of childhood frolicking keep strange company with the desultory figure cut by James.

If the tone is less hopeful and full of wonder than in her features and other shorts, Kill the Day impresses with its exploration of memory. The junkie at its centre seems to be its prisoner, and despite the familiarity of the themes of crime, punishment and the true walls that enclose us, he is strangely compelling.

Dominic Leppla

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Video Clips
Complete film (17:58)
Ratcatcher (1999)
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