Morvern Callar

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner1/11/2002

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 98 mins

Lyrical, hypnotically visual film by Lynne ‘Ratcatcher’ Ramsay – a superb soundtrack, haunting imagery and a stunning performance by Samantha Morton.

Director Lynne Ramsay burst onto the British filmmaking scene with her impressive debut Ratcatcher, about coming-of-age in the Glasgow slums in the 1970s. For her second feature, she has chosen to adapt Alan Warner’s acclaimed novel Morvern Callar, and the result is one of the best films of the year, though it almost certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste.

The key to Morvern Callar is that it is very much a film of sounds and images, rather than plot, or even character, at least in the traditional sense. Set in the Scottish coastal town of Oban around Christmas-time, the film opens, bleakly, with Morvern (Samantha Morton) discovering that her boyfriend has committed suicide.

Festive Suicide And DIY Burial

The only sound is the electric buzz of the Christmas tree lights. On the computer is a message that says “Read Me” and, Morvern discovers, he has also left her a tape of “Songs For You” that will become the – stunning - soundtrack to the film, complete with the tinny walkman sounds as Morvern listens to the tracks.

However, Morvern doesn’t react quite the way we might expect her to. Instead of calling the police, she goes out to a party. Later, with the body still on the floor, she reads the note, prints out her boyfriend’s unpublished novel and sends it to a publisher, with her name on it in place of his. Later still, she decides to dispose of the body, so she cuts it up in the bath, stuffs it in a rucksack and then buries him on the mountainside. With a trowel.

Having done all that, Morvern uses the money in her boyfriend’s account and whisks both herself and her lively best friend Lanna (a great performance by the unknown Kathleen McDermott) to the Costa Del Hedonism, where they live it up till the money runs out…

Somewhat Amoral And A Tad Quiet

It’s immediately apparent, then, that Morvern is, to say the least, somewhat amoral. She doesn’t even tell her best friend that her boyfriend is dead, and when she finally does, Lanna thinks it’s a figure of speech.

Initially, this is frustrating, because we are never allowed any insight into Morvern – we never get inside her head, unlike the stream-of-consciousness approach of the novel, for example. (She has maybe 15-30 lines of dialogue in the entire film!) However, once you accept that and surrender yourself to the flow of the film, it becomes immensely rewarding.

Morton is fantastic in the lead role, giving Morvern the necessary ‘not quite of this world’ quality that she’s drawn upon in the past for her roles in Sweet and Lowdown and, to a lesser extent, Minority Report.

Long Term Impact

The photography is also stunning, with certain images burning into your memory and given an extra dimension by Ramsay’s brilliant use of the soundtrack. Highlights include Lanna and Morvern’s drug-induced flour-fight; Morvern losing Lanna during a bull-running ceremony; and Morvern walking through a club full of drugged-up ravers, to the tune of Dedicated to the One I Love on her walkman. (Also, it has to be said, the film has no shortage of Shallow And Obvious Reasons to see it, either).

In short, Morven Callar is a complex, initially frustrating but ultimately deeply rewarding film, with images that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 13/12/2019 15:09

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