Morvern Callar

Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Linda McGuire, Raife Patrick Burchell

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Morvern Callar (played by Samantha Morton) is a young woman living in a small Scottish port town, and this unusual and ponderous tale charts Callar’s attempt to emancipate herself from the mundane predictability of her life. The film adopts an unconventionally low key style given the intriguing opening premise in which Callar awakes on Christmas morning to find her boyfriend has killed himself and left a suicide note typed into his computer. Thereafter the film steadfastly refuses to kow-tow to expectations by eschewing any attempt to explain the deceased’s actions, and instead focuses on Callar’s surprisingly unfazed reaction to her partner’s death.

Whilst the corpse lies untouched on the floor of her apartment Callar continues to socialise with friends; she opens her presents, celebrates the holiday, and fulfil her shifts at a local supermarket. It is only after she has read her boyfriend’s final note, which bequeaths to her his bank balance and implores her to seek a publisher for his recently completed novel, that Callar feels compelled to take any action. After dismembering and disposing of the body she tells acquaintances that her boyfriend has left her. She then books a holiday in Spain for herself and best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott), and expropriates the novel as her own.

Director Lynne Ramsay leaves no doubt that Callar is an enigmatic personality: even when patronising the hedonistic arenas of her fellow twenty-somethings (a Christmas house party or a nightclub in Spain) she manages to remain detached: an observer rather than a participant. Ramsay conveys this aloofness via endless close-ups of Callar’s expressionless visage. So we get Callar looking blank whilst lifting her skirt to flash a local at night; Callar looking blank whilst pondering her dead boyfriend; and Callar looking blank amidst the noise and intoxication of a Spanish club. Sex, death, and partying all failing to engage her on an emotional level – that is until all three converge in the hotel room of a fellow holidaymaker who has just heard that his mother has died. After this encounter Callar is galvanised into action and she determinedly pursues a potential publisher of ‘her’ novel.

Very little actually happens in MORVERN CALLAR so it is very hard to convey the substance of the plot without relating the whole story. Most encounters and incidents are isolated and rarely seem to impact on subsequent events in the film. Continuous narrative is sacrificed so that the film can stand as a psychological study of its title character. Unfortunately, because Callar is mostly torpid and uncommunicative the viewer has little substance to invest with empathy; thus the film makes for a pedestrian and frequently cold experience that will probably fail to satisfy most audiences.

3 out of 6 stars

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