Morvern Callar

I already wanted to see this movie on the Edinburgh festival last summer, but it was sold out then. Not so this time, there were only five other people in the cinema, though I saw it in its first week in Utrecht. But it was a Wednesday early afternoon, and it was very bad weather. From start to finish Morvern Callar, based on a cult novel by Alan Warner, is an unusual movie. It is the second movie by Lynne Ramsay (I have’t seen her first and praised movie Ratcatcher). The plot is fairly easy to tell though. The boyfriend of Morvern Callar has committed suicide with Christmas. Amongst the things he left her are a finished manuscript for a novel. In his farewell note he asks her to send it to a publisher. She does so, but changes his name on the cover into her own. Of course the publisher is highly interested in meeting this gifted young writer… Morvern never tells anyone her friend has died, and gets rid of his body.

Besides this fairly simple thriller-like story, the movie is not very straightforward. The start of the film is frustratingly slow. Morvern Callar (wonderfully played by Samantha Morton) is a mysterious character, who does not speak much. Morvern seems to live in a dreamworld, and acts rather cold and apathic. She seems to be fed up with her life in an isolated Scottish village and her job in a supermarket. With the money that her friend left her she goes on holiday to Spain with a female friend, Lanna. What follows is sort of a psychedelic road trip. After a while Morvern apparently gets fed up with the teenage party beach resort where they were hanging out. She travels further to more quiet places, leaving Lanna behind, who does not enjoy herself between the sun, sand and cactuses. Later Morvern returns home, and finds a big cheque of the publisher. She asks her friend to quit her job and to come with her on another journey, but she doesn’t want to. She is happy in the little village where she has her friends and family, while Morvern apparently feels the need to escape from, yes from what really? Everyday routine? The memory of her boyfriend? Or is it just that the grass seems to be greener on the other side?

Many scenes are deliberately vague and psychedelic. Still you get a feeling of emotional intensity. There is a big contrast between the grey Scotland and the colourful Spanish landscape. Some black humour lies beneath the surface, but only very subtle. The music plays an important role in the movie. Her boyfriend left Morvern a tape with music he compiled for her, from Velvet Underground to Can, from Nancy Sinatra to Boards of Canada. There are some nice scenes in which Morvers listens to the music on her walkman. Especially nice is the one in which she is listening to her own music in the middle of a crowded disco. At times the movie is very silent, with only a few sounds which are very enlarged, like the flickering lights of the Christmas tree in the opening scene… Other scenes have overwhelming music from the tape, including Aphex Twin (there is a soundtrack available from Warp Records). An intriguing and vague film, with a mysterious main character, which you want to understand.