(Winner of the Award of The Youth & C.I.C.A.E. Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on the 1995 novel by Alan Warner, Morvern Callar tells the story of a woman who finds her dead boyfriend from suicide as well as his unfinished manuscript. In turn, she takes the manuscript and puts her name on it as she sells it to a publisher while going on a trip to Ibiza with her friend. Directed by Lynne Ramsay with an adapted script by Ramsay and Liana Dognini. It is a film that recalls the struggle of a woman trying to do what is right only to do things the wrong way. Starring Samantha Morton and Kathleen McDermott. Morvern Callar is a haunting yet intriguing film from Lynne Ramsay.
It’s Christmas morning as a woman named Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) has found her boyfriend dead from a suicide. Shocked, she finds her boyfriend’s suicide note with instructions about the money in his account as well as the manuscript that he just finished. Morvern then decides to go out to party with her friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) as the two go out to a bar and later to a New Year’s Eve party at someone’s house. Morvern uses the party to escape though she and Lanna later visit Lanna’s grandmother as Morvern ponders what she’s going through as she found the mix-tape her boyfriend made for her. When she reads her boyfriend’s note with the instructions he left for her. She also finds his manuscript as she suddenly removes his name and puts hers in place.
Taking the money from her boyfriend’s account, she decides to go on a trip to Ibiza with Lanna as Morvern receives a letter from a publisher about her boyfriend’s book. Upon their arrival to Spain, Movern and Lanna go out for some fun which starts off well until grief starts to sweep in as Morvern meets a guy (Raife Patrick Burchell) whose mother had just passed away. Movern would have some fun with the guy as it would lead to more strange things as she and Lanna go on a drive with some guy (El Carrette) through the desert of Spain. Finally arriving to a nearby town, the two get swept up into the craziness of a gathering as they find themselves lost in the Spanish desert. Morvern decides to meet with the publisher Tom Boddington (James Wilson) about the book as she is given a deal that is extraordinary. Yet, it would also give Morvern a revelation about herself and everything that’s happened.
When faced with death, grief is one of the most complicated feelings to occur where the person dealing with death has no idea what to do. In the case of a film like this, it’s the story of a woman going on a personal journey following the death of her boyfriend while finding the manuscript that he wrote as she takes her name in place of his. What she doing isn’t entirely bad except for the fact that she’s taking credit for someone else’s work. It’s just that she is lost over what she encountered while trying to deal with it by going to parties and later taking her best friend on a holiday to Spain.
Since the film has no conventional plot where it’s mostly a lot of loose scenes of its titular character wandering around throughout the story. It’s an approach that is very engaging as Morvern is a woman just going through the motions as she uses her boyfriend’s death as an escape of sorts. An escape from the world that she lives in which is a small port town in Scotland while working in a job as unremarkable as being a supermarket clerk. At the same time, she lives in a world where it’s often very cold while she and her best friend Lanna just want to have fun and party like many young women.
Screenwriters Lynne Ramsay and Liana Dognini definitely create a story that is very loose in structure and in tone. Even as the first half is mostly played in Scotland where Morvern is trying to deal with her dead boyfriend, his finances, his manuscript, and his body. At the same time, she is pondering about a world outside of Scotland and outside of everything. In the second half of the film, Morvern and Lanna go to Ibiza and parts of Spain to party. Yet, it would create a rift of sorts as it’s clear that Morvern is still dealing with issues while the offer she’s given becomes overwhelming. Ramsay and Dognini use the looseness of the script to create a captivating character study as they let the audience follow this woman in her journey of self-discovery.
Ramsay’s direction is definitely a major highlight of the film in the way she presents everything as if it’s all in the moment. While there’s a bit of a stylized flair for a crazy sequence involving a driver that plays up to the craziness Morvern and Lanna encounter. Ramsay really goes for something that is very natural and loose. Even in scenes that seems something as unremarkable as Morvern at work or her just being all alone and staring at something. Even if it is a scene where she is just alone and listening to music. There is something unique about the simple presentation as it allows the audience to be invested in Morvern’s world.
Mostly shooting the film with hand-held camera along with some tracking shots throughout the film. Ramsay allows the camera to just play everything out as if the audience is another person watching everything. Notably a scene in Spain where the camera is in the middle of a gathering to see what is going on. Due to the looseness of the script and lack of plot, a casual filmgoer will find this to be very boring because they believe nothing is happening. Even as there isn’t a lot of dialogue throughout the film as Ramsay goes for something that is close to a silent film as it’s all about reactions and what the characters are feeling at the moment. Yet, this is how things happen in real life as Ramsay creates a film that is truly mesmerizing in its presentation and story.
Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler does a spectacular job with the film’s photography from the grimy yet grainy look of the scenes in Scotland to the colorful dazzle of the scenes in Spain. Kuchler’s camera work plays up to the atmosphere of each location as the scenes in Scotland play up to its cold tone. For the scenes in the parties including the clubs of Ibizia, there is something very colorful and stylized as it plays up the manic vibe of that world. Even as the photography becomes heightened and saturated for the surreal scene with the strange driver. Editor Lucia Zucchetti does an excellent job with the editing as it’s mostly straightforward while using jump-cuts to play with the film’s rhythm. Even in scenes where Morvern and Lanna are playing around as Zuchetti’s cutting also slow things down with slow-motion cuts to capture Morvern’s state of mind.
Production designer Jane Morton, along with art directors Philip Barber and James David Goldmark, does a very good job with the look of the film from Morvern‘s intimate yet grungy apartment to the lush world of Spain. Costume designer Sarah Blenkinsop does a wonderful job with the costumes as it plays through a mostly casual look for the clothes though the flower-colored dress Morvern wears late in the film is a real standout. Sound designer Paul Davies does a great job with the sound design in playing up to the chaotic atmosphere in the locations that the characters interact to the array of sounds that plays up to Morvern’s state of mind during a sex scene with a guy.
Music supervisors Maggie Bazin and Andrew Cannon create a dazzling soundtrack that is based on the mix-tape Morvern’s boyfriend makes. A lot of the music help brings some humor as well as playing to Morvern’s behavior. Among them are Can, Aphex Twin, Stereolab, Broadcast, the Velvet Underground, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Boards of Canada, Ween, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, and the Mamas & the Papas.
The casting by Des Hamilton is phenomenal as many of the people in the film are mostly non-professional actors or real people that play out in the film. Standing out are James Wilson as the publisher, Raife Patrick Burchell as a guy Morvern meets at a hotel in Spain, and El Carrette as a crazy driver Morvern and Lanna meet. Kathleen McDermott is superb as Morvern’s best friend Lanna, a party girl who likes to go out and have fun while being bewildered by Morvern’s behavior. Even as she is someone who tries to tell Morvern that she doesn’t really need anything.
Finally, there’s Samantha Morton in one of her greatest performances as the title character Morvern Callar. Morton’s performance is definitely eerie to watch for the way she manages to be a young woman dealing with grief as well as what to do with her life. There’s scenes where Morton can be funny, even in dark moment as she mostly performs without many dialogue and just let her body and movements do the acting. It’s truly one of the most fascinating performances ever shown in the 2000s.
Movern Callar is a hypnotic yet engrossing film from Lynne Ramsay featuring a radiant performance from Samantha Morton. Audiences wanting a drama that is very stripped down and not giving into a lot of style will certainly find this to be an enjoyable gem. Particularly with the way Ramsay chose to present the film in an unconventional style that doesn’t need to explain a lot nor let things be underwritten. It’s a film that really doesn’t go for any kind of tricks that is often seen in films while delving into something far more engaging. In the end, Morvern Callar is an extraordinary film from Lynne Ramsay.
Lynne Ramsay Films: Ratcatcher - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Related: Auteurs #6: Lynne Ramsay - Favorite Films #9: Morvern Callar
Related: Auteurs #6: Lynne Ramsay - Favorite Films #9: Morvern Callar
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