Morvern Callar

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 12/20/02 20:16:40

"Aesthetically interesting drawn-out existential character study"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Indie films that portray modern European youth working class culture are inevitably gritty, dirty, romantic and improbably fortuitous. MORVERN CALLAR, like 101 REYKJAVIK, starts with the characters and then moves to location but brings everything back to more or less universal human desires. Americans have no basic need to be cosmopolitan, unlike the natural cosmopolitan European who live much closer to a variety of distinct cultures and languages and histories. These subtle character shapers are the elements that bring so much to a restless American audience forever pioneering the frontier of whatís possible. We are always looking for new scripts to weave into the stories of our personal lives and MORVERN CALLAR, like good fiction, takes us to that place where we can get a deep perspective.

The film itself isnít deep, nor does it offer, or purport to offer any insights into human nature. Itís mostly a wild tale worth watching for its visual vocabulary and the way that vocabulary carves Lanna and Morvern out of the celluloid.

MORVERN CALLAR is based on a novel by Alan Warner and brought to life by Lynne Ramsey. Morvern (Samantha Morton) comes home on Christmas eve to find that her boyfriend has committed suicide, leaving her his life savings and his unpublished novel. Thus this tragedy begins the rather charmed ride Morvern is about to take.

Morvern doesnít call the police and for days, she goes to her low-pay job at the supermarket as usual and when she returns she steps over his body to get around it. She numbly continues the usual course of her day, fixing frozen pizza after work, contemplating her dead boyfriend, listening to his mix tapes and hanging out with her best friend, Lanna, (Kathleen McDermott) who she works with at the supermarket.

The Christmas scene is so desolate with spare, stark lighting and minimal sound. The Christmas lights and the record player, instead of bringing holiday cheer become a blankly staring mirror of nothing. A sense of abandonment and emptiness pervades the scene.

The suburban working class aesthetic is reminiscent of Mike Leighís recent ALL OR NOTHING. These are not sophisticated people, complex, yes, but rough hewn and provincial. Because of her situation, the sudden influx of her dead boyfriendís life savings of 4000 pounds (nearly 8,000 dollars) into her bank account had the potential to be more of an emotional event but Morvern handles the transaction with characteristic cold and mechanical efficiency.

Morvern then takes her best friend on a holiday to a popular teen holiday resort area in Spain where the hotels are more like an unsupervised dorm room with lots of drugs and alcohol, telling her not to worry where the money came from.

Morvern and Lonnaís friendship is tested when Morvern suddenly decides its time to leave the resort and head out to Pamplona just in time for the running of the bulls. It is a typical best-friends fighting scene. The issue is all-important up close but loses granularity when seen from a distance. Lonna has met a boy and sheís happy spending her nights drinking and fucking and isnít ready to leave and certainly not at the early morning hour that Morvern suddenly decides, ďItís time to go!Ē

The image of the two young women, living for the moment while the going is good, strung out from no sleep and a week of partying, dragging their suitcases in the dust wearing disco clothes and high heels, make-up smeared, hair ragged, lost in the hills of Spain is the basic visual styling of the whole film. And since itís a movie, its interesting to watch.

The girls at this point reminded me of Holly and Marina in ME WITHOUT YOU as co-conspirators of pleasure undergoing a momentary power struggle. Morvern controls the purse strings so of course Lanna will have do what she says.

The film wanders off into the realm of fantasy just in time to bring in some new kind of character to give the film a new facet. Morvernís boyfriend had written a novel that he despaired over, as all poor, obscure novelists do when they finally finish one. Morvern, in one her ďwhy notĒ moments, replaces her boyfriends name with hers on the byline and sends the thing off to a publisher in London. She is shocked when she learns that a pair of London literary agents had been desperately searching for her. They hail her as the next female literary sensation. She canít believe that anyone would think her boyfriends novel was any good and now she gets to reap the spoils.

The scene with the lit agents isnít played for comedy, although it could have easily become farcical. When the agents ask her what her next novel is going to be about, and they begin to guess at all these themes. They think Morvern is more sophisticated than she actually is. Morvern just rolls with it. Her remarkable strength is her ability to go with the flow and take everything in stride.

This is a great movie for more ponderous people who like long, slow character vistas. Morvern may leave you scratching your head. Her utter normalcy makes the whole story plausible, however impossible. Itís also a good movie to see when you are not wearing your best clothes, youíve ducked in from the rain, you barely had enough for the ticket and the prospect of post-holiday employment is bleak. Itís a must-see film for low-rent culture vultures.

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