Morvern Callar

2002, Movie, NR, 97 mins


Exceeding the high expectations set by her excellent debut, 1999's grim but gripping RATCATCHER, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's second feature is an extraordinary adaptation of fellow-Scot Alan Warner's acclaimed novel. Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton), a twentysomething supermarket cashier in a remote Highland town, discovers an awful surprise under her Christmas tree: the corpse of her boyfriend, aspiring novelist James, who, according to the suicide note left on his computer, thought slashing his wrists "felt like the best thing to do." The note also bequeaths to Movern the manuscript of his unpublished novel and invites her to help herself to his ATM card and the contents of his bank account. Unsure about what to do, Morvern does nothing. She leaves the body on the floor, gets dressed, then hits the pubs and embarks on a wild, all-night party in a dull, grief-stricken daze. When her best friend, Lanna (newcomer Kathleen McDermott), asks what's become of James, Morvern tells her the truth — sort of: "He's home, in the kitchen," she mumbles. Morvern returns to James's apartment and unwraps the Christmas gifts he's left for her — a leather jacket, a lighter, a pink Walkman, and, judging from the film's incredible soundtrack, the best mixed tape ever — then does two things she really shouldn't. She disposes of James's body without notifying anyone of his death, then puts her own name on his manuscript and ships it off to a London publisher. Morvern then empties James's bank account and leaves the damp murk of the Scottish Highlands for the sun and sand of Spain, treating herself and Lanna to two weeks at a rowdy Youth Med resort on the Costa del Sol. Warner's novel is a fragmented chronicle of events told entirely from Morvern's deadpan, affectless perspective. Ramsay, who cowrote the screenplay with Liana Dognini, boldly decided to pass on the obvious choice of a voice-over narration and instead tells the story through Alwin Kuchler's intimate cinematography and Morton's remarkable face: With very little written dialogue at her disposal, she's somehow able to convey not only Morvern's shock and grief over James's death and her eventual liberation through dire circumstances, but the disquieting blankness that's essential to her character. Astonishingly, McDermott, who has never acted before (she was busy pursuing a career as a barber before being discovered on a Glasgow street), manages to keep up with her every step of the way. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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