MORVERN CALLAR

Directed by Lynne Ramsay. U.K. 2002.

Reviewed by Jaap Mees and Howard Schumann


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Morvern Callar is the eagerly awaited new film by Lynne Ramsay, after her magical feature debut Ratcatcher in 1999, in my view one of the best British films of the last decade, with Pawel Pawlikowski’s Last Resort and Gillies MacKinnon's Small Faces

Morvern Callar is the name of the lead character, enigmatically acted by Samantha Morton, based on the Scottish cult novel by Alan Warner. The Curzon Soho previewed the film in collaboration with the London Film Academy and they organised a Q & A afterwards with Lynne Ramsay, Samantha Morton, co-writer Liana Dognini and producer Robyn Slovo. A talented group of people on stage, chaired by film critic Peter Bradshaw.

Morvern Callar. All Rights Reserved.Morvern wakes up one day, with a Christmas tree flickering in the background, and finds her writer boyfriend dead next to her. She touches him lovingly and finds a message on the computer, “be brave” it says and “I love you”. He left her a complete novel on a floppy disk; she erases his name on the title page and replaces it with hers. The money he left her for his funeral, she spends on a package holiday in Spain together with her best friend Lanna, played by the non-actor Kathleen Mc Dermott, who loves clubbing and giggling. Lana drags Morvern with her to clubs and rave parties, but understandably Morvern’s mind is somewhere else, she needs some time before the suicide of her boyfriend registers. 

In a beautiful scene, strikingly photographed as always with Ramsay’s films, she sits in the dark on her own playing with a lighter she got as a posthumous Christmas present by her boyfriend and cries silently. While Lanna has a great time in Spain with sex, booze and dancing, Morvern prefers the real Spain away from the ghastly coast ruined by tourists. To her own huge surprise the publisher, who she sent her boyfriend’s novel to before she left, really likes the book and offers her £100.000 for it. In a realistic looking scene the politely patronising publishing couple, who fly to Spain to sign the contract, are well contrasted with the big eyed and genuinely naïve Morvern, who can’t believe her luck. 

Morvern Callar is a completely different story than the more poignant Ratcatcher, but there are similarities. In films the acting is very good, a wonderful William Eadie in Ratcatcher and now a superb Samantha Morton in Morvern Caller

Morvern Callar. All Rights Reserved.The photography, framing and lighting are now an exquisite landmark in Ramsay’s films. This one is mostly shot very close, causing a real intimacy, intensity and involvement. Samantha Morton is superb, Morton is one of those rare actors who comes fully alive on the screen, just as she was in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown. She said at the preview that Lynne Ramsay works with an enormous amount of care and attention and is not glued to her monitor like so many other directors, who forget to see and feel what really happens on the set.

Lynne Ramsay adds some personal touches to the script, written together with filmmaker Liana Dognini, to make you empathy with the characters more. The collaboration with Dognini started after Ramsay saw some of her shorts and was moved by them. I think it’s mostly those Ramsayian touches, which enhances the film enormously.

In the talk afterwards she emphasises “the other level” of what happens during the shooting of the film, she prefers a more instinctive way of working, like she chooses the music very carefully to express something about the characters.

I’m already looking forward to Lynne Ramsay’s next film. 

Jaap Mees



If you are feeling too much Christmas cheer left over from the holidays, a perfect antidote is Lynne Ramsay's second feature Morvern Callar. Based on a 1995 novel by Alan Warner, Morvern Callar, superbly performed by Samantha Morton, is a 21-year old supermarket clerk in a Scottish town who wakes in a semi-stupor to discover the sprawling corpse of her boyfriend on the kitchen floor. With Christmas tree lights flashing, she caresses his body but seems unable to act rationally. All she can think to do is open the Christmas presents that include a music tape labeled "Music for You". She also finds a note in which he apologizes for his act, directs her to publish his recently completed novel, and reveals that he has given her access to his bank account. Morvern does not tell anyone about his death and astonishingly no one asks any questions. Matter of factly, she changes the name on the novel to her own, mails it to a publisher, then cuts up his body in the bathtub, and buries it using only a flat-bladed garden tool. 

Using her newfound money, Morvern takes her girlfriend Lanna, played by nonprofessional actress Kathleen McDermott, to the Costa del Clubland in Spain on an extended vacation. They engage in drinking, sex, and drugs to the beat of a hip rock music soundtrack that includes The Velvet Underground, Aphex Twin, and Can. Ramsay creates a technically stylized dreamscape in which physical sensation takes the place of narrative, dialogue is sparse and self-examination is non existent. When a publisher offers Morvern an advance of 100,000 pounds for a novel she did not write, she believes she has found the ticket to endless pleasure and, after an argument, ditches Lanna somewhere in the Spanish countryside but remains closed and enigmatic to the end. Morvern is impenetrable and unreflective, content to drift along in a mental and physical haze, lacking any sense of right or wrong or feelings for others. Morvern Callar is a beautiful looking film and an enticing sensual experience, but ultimately I found it uninvolving and lacking in emotional depth or integrity. 

Howard Schumann


Web Reference

The new BBCi website dedicated to alternative film, music, art and leisure called collective (www.bbc.co.uk/collective) has recently taped an exclusive interview with Morvern Caller's director Lynne Ramsay. It is located at: 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/collective/A870509

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