Posts Tagged ‘Samantha Morton’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published on the 13th of February 2003:

My friends and colleagues have all rumbled to the fact that I visit the cinema only slightly less frequently than the water closet and have taken to regularly enquiring if there’s anything good coming out soon, or indeed if I’ve seen anything interesting recently. We were having one such conversation the other day and I mentioned I was off to see Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar, starring Samantha Morton.

‘Oh, yeah, her,’ said my friend dubiously. ‘Everyone keeps saying what a good actress she is but I’ve only ever seen her in Minority Report‘ – as astute a comment on her performance as Agatha the pre-cog as ever I’ve heard. And indeed to some extent Morton’s enviable reputation has not really been backed up by her high-profile roles – but anyone doubting her talent should hustle along to Morvern Callar with all the alacrity at their disposal.

Based on the novel by Alan Warner, Ramsay’s film opens where most movies I’d think about going to see would be more likely to conclude: a young woman wakes up on Christmas morning, next to the corpse of her boyfriend. The woman is Morvern Callar (Morton), English but living in Scotland. Her boyfriend has committed suicide but thoughtfully left Morvern her Christmas presents, money to arrange his funeral, and the manuscript of his novel. Morvern tells no-one what has happened, and tries to go on with her life as usual, partying, working in a supermarket, spending time with her peers. But eventually she decides to put her own name on the novel and send it to a publisher, before using the funeral money to go on a grim Club 18-30-style package holiday with her (really quite annoying) best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott).

This is another of those hard-to-do-justice-in-a-synopsis films. There really isn’t very much of a plot going on here, just (on paper) a cool, almost forensic dissection of the minutiae of Morvern’s life in Scotland and the desperate hedonism she encounters in Spain. At one point it really does seem that the story has ground to a complete halt and that all we’re seeing are a series of disconnected vignettes. But this doesn’t last long and in the end it becomes clear that Ramsay’s film is making a point about the transcendent power of fantasy and the imagination, albeit in a slightly subversive way. Most of the time the film is grimly naturalistic, but this is coupled with a painterly eye behind the camera. Morvern Callar is beautiful to watch even when dealing with potentially ugly subject matter, surely a sign of real art. But Ramsay also creates bravura moments of pure cinema, most often through careful use of the soundtrack: the naturalistic clatter giving way to clear, dead silence or reverberating music.

While the non-professional McDermott gives an assured performance, this film is Samantha Morton’s from start to finish. Morvern frequently acts in a way that seems either insensitive or actually irrational, but Morton imbues her with such an aura of guileless ethereality that she is never less than believable: you don’t always understand why she does the things she does, but you never doubt that she does have reasons. And beyond this, Morvern remains not only believable but also sympathetic, even likeable, a not inconsiderable achievement given that she is arguably at best a complete space cadet and at worst a self-obsessed, delusional criminal. This performance of Morton’s is every bit as deserving of praise and note as those currently attracting attention and awards nominations.

Some films are unjustly incarcerated in their art-house ghetto or in a late-night slot on BBC2, and Morvern Callar is one of them. It’s not perfect, and I admit it’s almost certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (hmm, I said almost exactly the same thing about Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, come to think of it), but I would urge you to seek it out and give it a try on the big screen. It’s a quiet film, but a deeply memorable one.

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