June 23, 2002
Lynne Ramsay, ,
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell, Dan Cadan, Carolyn Calder, Steve Cardwell, Bryan Dick, El Carrette, Andrew Flannigan, Des Hamilton, Mette Karlsvik, Andrew Knowles, Duncan McHardy, Ruby Milton, Paul Popplewell, ,
Based on Alan Warner’s novel of the same name, Morvern Callar (2002) is a fascinating character study of a disaffected woman who is forced to deal with the death of someone close to her. Filmmaker Lynne Ramsay arrived on the scene with Ratcatcher (1999), a strong, self-assured debut. Morvern Callar is her latest effort and proves that she has a distinctive vision and the technical savvy to back it up.
Morvern Callar (Morton) is grocery store checkout clerk who awakes one day to find that her boyfriend has committed suicide during the Christmas season. He left an unpublished book on his computer with a suicide note instructing her to get it published. She does but not before deleting his name and putting hers on it. Morvern and her best friend, Lanna (McDermott) go for a vacation in Spain and do all sorts of touristy things—get drunk, go swimming and frequent night clubs but it doesn’t seem to shake the funk that she is in. Morvern’s trip is not really an escape from her past nor is it the key to her future and this makes her something of an enigma.
Samantha Morton is one of the best actresses of her generation. She has the same small, delicate, almost fragile physical features of contemporary, Emily Watson. Like Watson, Morton isn’t afraid to pick challenging roles and work with adventurous filmmakers like Lars Von Trier (Breaking the Waves) and Jim Sheridan (In America), respectively. Morton does an excellent job internalizing her character’s emotions. It’s a predominantly non-verbal role because even when Morvern interacts with other people, her mind is elsewhere. It makes her a very hard character to read and to figure out her motivations.
Morvern Callar is a beautifully shot movie. Director Lynne Ramsay has a great eye for detail. The first half of the film, set in Scotland, is painted in grays and blacks, which Ramsay offsets with the use of saturated bright reds and greens in a party scene. She moves a hand-held camera in close to characters’ faces and blasts pulsating electronic dance music to immerse the viewer in the scene. Once Morvern and Lanna go to Spain, the film’s colour palette changes to vibrant golden hues that are warm and inviting in contrast to the gloom of Scotland.
The film’s soundtrack, populated with the likes of the Velvet Underground, Ween and Stereolab, enhances the film’s dreamy atmosphere. The incidental music and lighting provides insight into Morvern’s mindset much in the same fashion as in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois couleurs: Blue (1993). Juliet Binoche’s character speaks only when forced to in social situations, much like Morvern. Both films even start off with their respective protagonists having to deal with the deal of someone close to them.
“Interviews” is a collection of soundbites from director Lynne Ramsay and actors Samantha Morton and Kathleen McDermott. Ramsay picked Morton because she felt that the actress could play anything. The director also admits that McDermott had never acted before! All three women talk about working with each other and, in the case of the two actresses, their characters. Sadly, this extra is way too short, leaving the viewer wanting to know more—which was maybe the intention.
The only other extra is a theatrical trailer.
Morvern Callar not only recalls Blue but also Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together (1997) which also features two friends going to another country on holiday only for their friendship to disintegrate in the process. All three films also use saturated colour and music to reflect the inner moods and feelings of their protagonists. Morvern Callar is an ambitious film that dispenses with traditional narrative and features another impressive performance from Samantha Morton.