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Full Review

Samantha Morton goes on the road
in Morvern Callar
Morvern Callar
by Marcy B. Dermansky

Guide Rating -  


When the film critic in the row behind me walked out of Lynne Ramsay's "Morvern Callar" only twenty minutes into the film, I understood. Title character Morvern (Samantha Morton) wakes up on Christmas morning to find her boyfriend dead, wrists slit, blood on the floor, as the pathetic Christmas tree blinks gloomily in the background. Young Morvern, a twenty-one year old grocery clerk in a small coastal town in Scotland, is mute with grief, and clearly, we the audience, are in for it: a slow, arty grief movie.

Strangely enough, I'd just made it through another one the other day. In "Love Liza," Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a relentless, gas-sniffing bag of grief with ninety-three minutes of screen time on his hands after when his wife kills herself (that film opens December 30 if you like grief movies). At first, Samantha Morton appeared ready to put on an equivalent acting show. She suffers admirably, mute, confused, almost drowning in the bathtub, silently unwrapping the Christmas presents from her dead lover. I envied the film critic who walked out. I found myself looking at my watch. Do something, I thought. Please.

Which is, of course, exactly what Morvern does. And when she finally takes action, her choices are both shocking and exhilarating. The screenplay is adapted from the novel of the same name by Scottish writer Alan Warner (whose novels I will make a point of seeking out.) In an interview, Lynne Ramsay reacted with equal pleasure to Morvern's bold behavior. (I am trying hard not to ruin your experience by giving it away.) "I thought, wow, kickass, man," Ramsay said. "It's shocking, really punk rock. I'd never seen a young woman depicted like that."

The second half of the film takes place in Spain. Morvern leaves cold, wet Scotland behind and goes on an unexpected package holiday with her best friend Lanna (played with wonderful charm by untrained newcomer Kathleen McDermott, discovered on the streets of Glasgow.) Part two of "Morvern Callar" is reminiscent of one of my favorite film's, Vincent Nunez's "Ruby in Paradise," the tale of a sad young woman, finding her self in the tourist enclave of Panama City, Florida. Only Morvern is no Ruby; she has an urgency that Ashley Judd's Ruby lacked. She does not have time to stop and reflect on the moral implications of her decisions. Morvern will shock you again and again while always remaining a sympathetic character.

Samantha Morton first won my admiration in Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown" as Hattie, a mute washerwoman who wears silly hats. She was nominated for an Academy Award, which is remarkable considering that she had no dialogue. Once again, Morton has little to say in "Morvern Callar." The film, in fact, is disarmingly silent, except for the hip and eclectic soundtrack, always present either in the background or blaring in the headphones that Morvern is rarely without. (Even in a crowded disco, Morvern wears her walkman.) As Steven Spielberg recognized when he cast her as the eerie pre-cog Agatha in "Minority Report," Samantha Morton can do incredible things with her face.

The character of Morvern is often inscrutable. Samantha Morton does not take you inside her head, but reveals exactly enough to keep you glued to her small story, fascinated to discover what she will do next. I feel sorry for the poor film critic who walked out; the remarkable "Morvern Callar" has stayed with me.

 Related Reviews    Related Resources
• Ratcatcher
Ruby in Paradise
• Russian Arc
• Solaris
• Talk To Her
• Samantha Morton
• Ashley Judd
 British Film
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