TODAY, Lynne Ramsay is in Glasgow. Today and every day for the foreseeable future. The film director has moved back to live in the city she grew up in. She arrived a couple of months ago, young daughter and Belarusian boyfriend in tow.

Call it a comeback. There have been a few of those of late. In life and work. After a seven-year gap Ramsay has also returned to making films with You Were Never Really Here, a lean, taut thriller full of anger and grief and violence. The cinematic equivalent of a page-turner, she hopes.

When a scratch version of the film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a bearded, beefy hitman with a hammer, played at Cannes last year it was nominated for the Palme ‘D’Or, the festival’s highest prize. Phoenix won the Best Actor award and Ramsay took the Joint Best Screenplay. All of which are reasons to be cheerful, because after she walked away from her last film Jane’s Got A Gun you could have been forgiven for worrying she would never make another movie again.

The vexatious story of Jane’s Got A Gun is now subject to legal agreements and Ramsay is circumspect about the experience when we speak (though even the little she says is enough to worry her public relations team later).

But it would appear Ramsay has already put the experience behind her. And even in the midst of it, she says, “I didn’t think this was ‘game over’. Maybe other people did, I don’t know, but I didn’t.”

Ramsay certainly doesn’t come across as someone who has lost her mojo.

This afternoon the 47-year-old (“I like to say I’m Hollywood 40s”) is fizzing with enthusiasm and good humour about work and life and Glasgow. They decided to move here because her “Belarusian guy” reckoned that London didn’t fit. “He said: ‘everyone’s angry.’” Plus, Glasgow is more affordable. “It’s nice to settle somewhere. I feel my roots up here.”

Ramsay hasn’t lived in the city since she was 17. “When you’re growing up you always want to leave, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s transformed.”

She is back because her mother’s getting older and she wants her daughter to spend time with her Scottish family. “Lots of babysitters,” she adds, grinning. She does a lot of grinning this afternoon. If I’m honest, I tell Ramsay, I suppose I’d imagined her outlook on the world to be a pretty dark one. That’s the impression you get from watching her films. From Ratcatcher to You Were Never Really Here, via Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin, the films she has made are full of pain and danger and violence.

And yet that hardly ties in with the chatty, gallus, formidable woman I spend an hour with. No, she doesn’t believe that life is essentially tragic, she says. It’s absurd if anything.  Any anyway, Ramsay thinks, her films are full of humour. That humour is, she accepts, quite dark. “It’s a Celtic humour. If you don’t laugh it’s too grey. But I’d love to do a comedy. I’d love to do a love story.”

Both of those would be great, but for the moment there is You Were Never Really Here. It is an example of Ramsay’s singular directorial talent. It is a synaesthetic pleasure, full of texture and grain. It offers a vision of New York that pops on the screen. The violence is horrific (though more of it is off-screen than you might think even while you’re watching it), but there’s a humour and a sadness to it too.

Actually, I tell her, the film kind of feels like it goes loud, quiet, loud. Lynne, I think this might be your Pixies movie. “I love the Pixies!” she says, thrilled. “Where Is My Mind is one of my favourite songs ever.”

Other great things about it. Joaquin Phoenix, obviously. His on-screen relationship with Judith Roberts, who plays his mother. And the film’s celebration of the middle-aged man’s body.

FILM REVIEW: Alison Rowat's verdict on You Were Never Really There

Ramsay nods vigorously when I bring it up. “To me, that’s sexy as a woman,” she says. “Okay, people will say ‘dad bod’ or whatever, but to me, there’s a vulnerability about the character. He’s not a six-pack guy, you know. He’s a fallible man. He’s gone to seed a bit.”

He is also Joaquin Phoenix though, so those of us of a certain age maybe shouldn’t be getting our hopes up too much. And to be honest, Joaquin’s paunch is the only fleshy thing in Ramsay’s new movie, which is a tight, taut thing.

Ramsay is clearly taken with her leading man. Working with him was a thrill. “It’s exciting to be on set with an actor like that. He’ll always do something different in every take, something that would be scary or really physical or funny. The whole crew was excited by the whole vibe.”

I’d read that he couldn’t understand your accent, Lynne. “Yeah, so he says,” she laughs.

“He had to have the beard for Mary Magdalene. He had to lose a lot of weight after this film so what he put his body through was massive. He was a hulking guy then, three weeks later, he had to be emaciated.”

We need to talk about the violence in the film. When it appears it’s short-lived but brutal. She says she loves the balletic Park Chon Wong thing, the Tarantino approach, but that wasn’t what she wanted to do. (And to be fair, it wasn’t what she could afford).

She remembers talking to her stunt man Christopher Columbus (“like the director”) about it.

“They’re used to people asking them to do the moves. I was like: ‘Look, if you hit someone with a hammer they go down quickly.

“We’ve seen so much violence anyhow. An audience can fill in all the gaps, you know.”

Despite everything that’s happened to her in recent years, she clearly still loves making movies. She talks about the experience with passion and excitement; about working with actors like Phoenix and Judith Roberts (“She’s in her eighties and doesn’t give a s**t. She’s just enjoying herself”).

And she talks about the nervous energy she feels on set: “It’s like having a gun to your head in a way. You know you have to make all the decisions, your back’s against the wall, you don’t have enough time and somehow you go with your gut instincts rather than overthink everything.”

She thrives on all of that. She’s most in control when things are on the verge of spinning out of whack. “I mean, I can’t decide what I want in a restaurant, right? But on a film shoot I can decide exactly what I want.”

My head, I tell her, is still swimming with the imagery of the film; water and metal and blood, all splintered together. “Splintered is good,” Ramsay says, “because I think the way I thought about it was it’s glass in his head.”

FILM REVIEW: Alison Rowat's verdict on You Were Never Really There

What does Ramsay want to put on the screen when she starts a project?

“Sometimes it’s hard to explain. I used to be a photographer, so shots and images are very much what I’ve learnt as a filmmaker.

“When I went to film school I learnt that editing was rhythm. It was music. It was feeling. You don’t put every great shot against each other. It dilutes it. It’s an instinct thing.”

She stalls, not finding the words she wants. “That’s why when Joaquin’s doing an interview he’ll be like: ‘I don’t know.’ You sort of feel it out. You just know. Things can pop into my head. Images and sounds.

“I wrote a lot of the script in a place that didn’t have a lot of cars [in Greece] so going to New York after that you feel like you’re going mental. It’s the loudest city in the world, so that started going into the sound design.”

Like I said, loud, quiet, loud.

HeraldScotland:

Lynne Ramsay’s earliest memory, pop psychologists take note, is her brother pushing off her bike in the hall of their home in Northpark Street in Maryhill, Glasgow. She also remembers seeing Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now at the age of seven. Really? It scared the hell out of me in my teens, I tell her. “I don’t think I was meant to be watching it.” She remembers snuggling down on the sofa to watch Hitchcock movies, Sirkian melodramas like Imitation Of Life, film noir. “Mainstream Hollywood, but brilliantly made stuff.”

It was a working-class childhood, but a creative one. When she wasn’t watching movies, she was drawing. “My mum said I was the easiest kid in the world. My younger sister was always clinging. I think she could give me paper and I would be fine for hours. I was just in my own world, drawing and drawing.”

For a while Ramsay thought she might be a painter, then a photographer, but in the end she went to film school in London.

“I got accepted as a cinematographer, but I realised that photography was closerto direction than cinematography. From day one at film school I was like: ‘I want to make a film. I want to make a film.’ I think they just got sick of me and said: ‘Okay, there’s a little bit of money.’ And that became Small Deaths.”

The short Small Deaths was set on a Glasgow housing scheme, as was the film that really made her name, Ratcatcher, which came out in 1999.

“You write about what you know,” Ramsay says. “This city is a great city for shooting. My pal Jonathan Glazer did Under The Skin here and I’ve always wanted to do a sci-fi up here and he beat me to it, damn it.” It’s interesting that she conjures up the idea of Weegie sci-fi. Because at times she has been rather painted as yet another working-class miserabilist.

Ramsay’s full-length debut Ratcatcher was very much received as the arrival of a new name in social realist cinema, with its director following in the footsteps of Ken Loach or Bill Douglas. But she never saw it like that. Ratcatcher strived for the poetic if anything. Glasgow has this amazing light and beauty and rawness, she says. “There is a surrealism about it. That’s why I think it’s good for sci-fi.”

That surrealism fed into Ratcatcher. And the success of that film, the idea that cinema had a new voice worth listening to, launched her career. Soon after, she was working with Samantha Morton on Morvern Callar, an adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1995 novel.

FILM REVIEW: Alison Rowat's verdict on You Were Never Really There

And then she suffered her first major setback when she was signed up to direct an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones before she was bounced off the project for Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson (there are some reports suggesting Steven Spielberg had something to do with it). No one much cared for the resulting film. (“I thought it looked like My Little Pony,” Ramsay has said of Jackson’s movie.)

Still, after a lengthy hiatus Ramsay bounced back with the award-winning We Need To Talk About Kevin, an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s squirmy novel about motherhood and psychopathic children, starring Tilda Swinton. And then she was offered Jane’s Got A Gun. It’s difficult now to get a clear vision of what went wrong on the film, which eventually limped out in 2016, starring Natalie Portman and directed by Gavin O’Connor.

There were charges and counter charges on both sides, but in short Ramsay didn’t turn up for the first day of filming and then Jude Law withdrew because he had signed up to work with the Scottish director. The producer Scott Steindorff went to the press and badmouthed her. It was not, she admits, a pleasant experience but she stands by her decision.

Ramsay retreated to lick her wounds in Santorini, Greece, as the media storm continued. “I just ignored it. I think I went off the grid a bit.”

She started taking photographs again and writing. “I was in a place where I couldn’t get online that easy. The electricity went off on a Friday. It was in a small village in the winter with one cafe.

“There’s not a lot to do there in the winter and it’s next to a volcano. I learnt to play chess.”

Ah, yes. That’s where her Belarusian comes into it. His name is Alexander. They used to play chess together every day. “He probably let me beat him for the first year or something just to make me play.

“But that helped as well. Because that’s a game where you can only be in the moment. Your mind’s got to be on it. You can’t think of a lot of things. It’s kind of like a meditation.”

In the midst of all this she wrote a script for You Were Never Really Here on spec. The film was shot fast and wasn’t really finished when she showed it at Cannes. “We had no credits. We had to do a mix in five days to make it. But they were like: ‘We really, really want it.” But the brilliant thing was I didn’t have a chance to think about Cannes. They can be brutal at Cannes.”

Perhaps. But they weren’t to her. The film received a seven-minute ovation. “I really felt the reaction. They went with it.”

Making the film reminded Ramsay that she really loved filmmaking, she says. Like she said, she never doubted that she would make another movie. Still, four films in the best part of 20 years. Is she a frustrated filmmaker? “No,” Ramsay says emphatically. “I feel like I’m the most creative I’ve ever been in a way.

“It’s tough making films, especially now, let’s not beat about the bush. A lot of great directors are making good TV. I feel privileged to be in the position to still make films. I just want to seize the moment a bit more.”

FILM REVIEW: Alison Rowat's verdict on You Were Never Really There

There’s a thrawnness to her perhaps, I suggest. “Aye, I suppose. I don’t know. It’s more if I feel it’s not going to be right my heart breaks a bit.”

She thinks about this a little bit more, pulls it back to the idea of growing up in Glasgow. “I think there is a lot of resilience. My sister was a cop, my other sister was a hairdresser and she’s a school teacher now. My brother’s an actor. My dad, I don’t think, gave a s**t who you were. I’d introduce him to actors and he’d go: ‘You all right, hen?’ Maybe that’s gone into us a bit.”

Tomorrow Lynne Ramsay will play a game of chess, go to the playground with her daughter, read books to her “because it makes you see the world in a gorgeous way again,” she says. She is thinking of finding herself a painting studio in Glasgow because she’d like to paint again. And she is thinking of films she would like to make. She is always thinking of films she’d like to make.

If we’re lucky we’ll get to see some of them.

You Were Never Really Here is in cinemas now.