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When her boyfriend kills himself, Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) a 21-year-old supermarket worker in Scotland, finds his completed novel on his computer along with his suicide note. She deletes his name from the titlepage, substitutes her own, and sends the manuscript off to a publisher. Then, without telling anybody about the death, she buries the corpse and sets off for a holiday in Spain with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott).

Review by Jake Wilson:
After so much recent, ugly work in digital video, what a pleasure to discover an up-and-coming director like Lynne Ramsay with an old-fashioned love for her medium, restlessly experimenting with different lenses, types of film stock and qualities of light.

Morvern Callar doesn't have much of a plot, but Ramsay's sense of beauty finds a deserving focus in Samantha Morton, a looser, more contemporary Emily Watson whose strange-yet-ordinary openness rarely slips into cloying mannerism.

Luminously dowdy, Morton conveys a sexy lack of physical self-consciousness whether padding round the house in a faded singlet or rugged up against the Scottish weather, lustreless dark hair shoved under a beanie, nose red from the cold. With the same script and actress a male director might have risked accusations of chauvinism in making Morvern/Morton a symbol of elemental, irrational womanhood, but Lynne Ramsay's fascination with her subject is more diffused, less clearly erotic. Typically, wider shots offer a quizzical view of Morvern as a solitary, burrowing animal - hypnotised by bright lights or tearing the plastic off a frozen pizza with her teeth - while shallow-focus close-ups emphasise her nervy responses to stimuli and the rhythms of her breath (as well as pop music from her boyfriend's compilation tape, played on her Walkman throughout).

With the wider world reduced to a hazy background glow, she's like a near-sighted baglady drawn to minute signs of decay (a mouldy carrot, worms crawling in a puddle); always, Morton's cheerful, definite voice and toothy grin help break the spell, suggesting her childlike eagerness to please while anchoring the film in a modern, everyday reality. If the film's visionary ambitions don't quite come off, it's largely due to weaknesses in the script: the basic conception relies a bit heavily on a familiar, romantic view of contemporary society as a chaos traversed by innocent sleepwalkers.

But if Ramsay, like her heroine, hasn't entirely found a secure identity, going by this evidence she's on track for even better things to come.

Published June 10, 2004

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CAST: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell, Dan Cadan, Carolyn Calder, Jim Wilson, Dolly Wells, Ruby Milton

DIRECTOR: Lynne Ramsay

SCRIPT: Liana Dognini, Lynne Ramsay (novel, Alan Warner)

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes




DVD RELEASE: May 12, 2004

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