Morvern Callar

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay surpasses even the brilliant Ratcatcher with this audacious second feature. Alan Warner’s acclaimed source novel is shaped as the internal monologue of its curiously named heroine, whom we discover on the west coast of Scotland with the dead body of her boyfriend prone beneath the Christmas tree lights. Before his suicide, he left his first novel completed on his laptop, and a compilation tape specially chosen for the lover he was leaving behind. A framing voiceover would have been obvious move for the film adaptation, yet Ramsay uses only mood and music to get us inside Morvern’s head while also allowing us a certain distance on the character, as she passes the novel off as her own and skips away to Spain with the money left in her departed’s account. It certainly beats shelf-stacking in a local supermarket, as the Spanish Costa and its sun-drenched hinterland give her the chance to live the life of hedonism and exploration hitherto denied her. Then again, freedom has its own challenges too . . .
Samantha Morton’s compelling central performance makes Morvern’s every move a matter of magnetic intensity. Dialogue is almost beside the point when you have an actress of such evident inner strength, capable of everything from ghoulish black humour as she disposes of the corpse, warm companionship with her best mate (Kathleen McDermott, another one of Ramsay’s non-professional finds), and a gnawing melancholy even amidst the sensory overload of sun, sex and rave culture. This is spare, fragmented, instinctive, yet wholly memorable filmmaking, more reminiscent of, say, Clare Denis than any British reference point, finding an alchemy of image and music (from Can and Lee Hazelwood to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and beyond) in the soundtrack to a life which has suddenly come alive. Essential is not the word.
U.K., 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 97 mins.

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