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  Morvern Callar No Dead Giveaway
Year: 2002
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Stars: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Paul Popplewell, Ruby Milton, Dolly Wells, Dan Cadan, Carolyn Calder, Raife Patrick Burchell, Steve Cardwell, Bryan Dick, El Carrette, Andrew Flanagan, Des Hamilton, Mette Karlsvik, Andrew Knowles, Linda McGuire
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's Christmastime in this small Scottish town, but one of the residents is left stunned by what the season has brought her: one dead boyfriend. He has killed himself that night, leaving his girlfriend Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) with a suicide note, a mix cassette, an unpublished manuscript and a body to wonder what to do with. Feeling shocked, she lies beside it and runs her hands over its cooling skin, then ponders her next move. Best to go out, perhaps, meet up with her best friend Lana (Kathleen McDermott) and party...

This was director Lynne Ramsay's second film after her debut feature Ratcatcher, and for some proved that the promise of that was well on its way to being fulfilled. Unfortunately it was also almost the last film she ever directed, thanks to a disastrous amount of wasted time spent trying to bring The Lovely Bones to the screen only to see it taken out of her hands and into the fumbling grasp of Peter Jackson. Thankfully Ramsay was able to make a return, but it did leave Morvern Callar, drawn from the novel by Alan Warner, left with a differing reputation depending on who you spoke to: was it the peak of directorial self-indulgence, or did it represent some kind of magic?

In cinematic form, that was, and that particular Ramsay mood in evidence from her first two efforts, somewhere between the dreamlike and the pragmatic but not quite either, could just as easily turn off an impatient audience as it could enchant them. Samantha Morton had the same effect on people as far as her acting went, it wasn't exactly a love her or hate her type affair, but she was just as able to be offputting especially in a film like this where her lead character was not an easy person to get to know. McDermott ably handled the down to earth business of the reactions we could recognise as realistic, but Morton had a trickier task.

For a start, Morvern does not behave in the normal manner when confronted with the corpse: she doesn't break down, and more importantly she doesn't tell anyone that her boyfriend is dead, not even the authorities. Even more callously, or so it would appear, she takes the novel he had written and deletes his name, then adds her own and sends it off to the publishers as instructed - well, he had left directions in the suicide note for it to be sent away, but he was patently hoping for John Kennedy Toole-style post-death fame. If that were not bad enough, Morvern then cuts up his body in the bathtub and buries the parts in the woods, not the most obvious actions of a loving partner.

More like a murderer, in fact, but staying hard to fathom is what Morvern is all about, and she keeps us guessing as to her motives until the very end: she's unhappy about her situation, and will not be hanging around no matter what, but if there's a problem it's that Morton fails to convince us of her character's hidden depths. Indeed, get her talking and you might consider she has barely any sense at all as regards to her path through life, but these qualities of being difficult to pin down are what renders the story compelling: what will she do next, you find yourself asking? Yet this was as much about sustaining that curious mood as it was sticking to hard and fast facts, something you will notice if you try to examine the twists the plot takes: wouldn't the body begin to rot well before Morvern set about it? Doesn't anyone get suspicious when the boyfriend disappears? Would a publisher really hand over all that cash for someone they knew nothing about? Obviously we were not dealing with normal parameters of narrative, which you reject outright or appreciate for its very strangeness.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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