When her boyfriend kills himself, Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) a 21-year-old supermarket worker in Scotland, finds his completed novel on his computer along with his suicide note. She deletes his name from the titlepage, substitutes her own, and sends the manuscript off to a publisher. Then, without telling anybody about the death, she buries the corpse and sets off for a holiday in Spain with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott).
Review by Jake Wilson:
After so much recent, ugly work in digital video, what a pleasure to discover an up-and-coming director like Lynne Ramsay with an old-fashioned love for her medium, restlessly experimenting with different lenses, types of film stock and qualities of light. Morvern Callar doesn’t have much of a plot, but Ramsay’s sense of beauty finds a deserving focus in Samantha Morton, a looser, more contemporary Emily Watson whose strange-yet-ordinary openness rarely slips into cloying mannerism. Luminously dowdy, Morton conveys a sexy lack of physical self-consciousness whether padding round the house in a faded singlet or rugged up against the Scottish weather, lustreless dark hair shoved under a beanie, nose red from the cold. With the same script and actress a male director might have risked accusations of chauvinism in making Morvern/Morton a symbol of elemental, irrational womanhood, but Lynne Ramsay’s fascination with her subject is more diffused, less clearly erotic. Typically, wider shots offer a quizzical view of Morvern as a solitary, burrowing animal – hypnotised by bright lights or tearing the plastic off a frozen pizza with her teeth – while shallow-focus close-ups emphasise her nervy responses to stimuli and the rhythms of her breath (as well as pop music from her boyfriend’s compilation tape, played on her Walkman throughout). With the wider world reduced to a hazy background glow, she’s like a near-sighted baglady drawn to minute signs of decay (a mouldy carrot, worms crawling in a puddle); always, Morton’s cheerful, definite voice and toothy grin help break the spell, suggesting her childlike eagerness to please while anchoring the film in a modern, everyday reality. If the film’s visionary ambitions don’t quite come off, it’s largely due to weaknesses in the script: the basic conception relies a bit heavily on a familiar, romantic view of contemporary society as a chaos traversed by innocent sleepwalkers. But if Ramsay, like her heroine, hasn’t entirely found a secure identity, going by this evidence she’s on track for even better things to come.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A terrific, noirish opening sequence sets up an intriguing scenario of a young woman alone with a semi-naked male corpse, both lit by the flickering lights of a small plastic Christmas tree. The myriad questions that are posed by a single image fry the brain as the young woman caresses the dead man’s bloodied arm. A computer screen demands ‘READ ME’. It’s the novel the dead man wrote. For her. Excellent stuff. And still we’re hooked, as she waits on an empty railway platform, when the public phone rings. Wrong number. When she hangs up is pretty much when the film starts unravelling; perhaps the book does too, but a novel can stay afloat on its inner voices, where a film cannot. The ideas run out and instead of a fascinating psycho drama, the screenplay descends into an empty rhetorical exercise in moral justification for the girl’s decision to sell the novel as her own. (“Does it matter who wrote the novel?” asks the writer director, in what is a terrific piece of provocation or awful moral blindness.) But even that storyline could have worked if it were as solidly imagined as the first half hour. The gloomy, gritty, grimy look in the first half contrasts with the second – and it’s the better look. Director Lynn Ramsay uses the camera to fondle Morvern’s hands several times, in close up, usually with a bug or fly. Sometimes she just shoots bugs close up on the floor or in a shallow puddle or in some dirt. Samantha Morton’s excellence notwithstanding, we lose interest in her character even when she dumps the body; Kathleen McDermott is also excellent as her best friend, Lanna, although she is sometimes impossible to understand through her heavy Glasgow accent. When Morvern takes Lanna to Spain, the film becomes a boring sequence of scenes that go nowhere. Ramsay ends the film with a long night shot on Morvern, now a well paid first author, back on the deserted railway station she haunted at the start of the film, still alone, still lost, still going nowhere.
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MORVERN CALLAR (M)
CAST: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell, Dan Cadan, Carolyn Calder, Jim Wilson, Dolly Wells, Ruby Milton
PRODUCER: George Faber, Charles Pattinson
DIRECTOR: Lynne Ramsay
SCRIPT: Liana Dognini, Lynne Ramsay (novel, Alan Warner)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alwin H. Kuchler
EDITOR: Lucia Zucchetti
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Morton
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 14, 2003