Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Unseen #62: Morvern Callar

Why Did I Buy It?: Mostly because of Scott Tobias’s evangelical reviews (Tobias is one of those critics with whom I often disagree but always has my ear). I found it on sale and couldn’t resist. With the rave reviews of the director Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (John Water’s approved!) pouring in from Cannes I figured it was the perfect time to watch Morvern Callar.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Well it’s not exactly one you pop on at a whim now is it?

I’ve written a bit self deprecatingly before about the impulse to pop in an easy, familiar watch in the evening when the day to day of life beats you down. But there’s a certain truth to the reasoning as well. Watching something like Morvern Callar when you’re still carrying around the metric ton of daily bullshit that life affords is as unfair to the film as it is to you (This is somewhat ironic as Movern Callar is among other things, exceptionally good at portraying the way the daily bullshit of working class life stacks up). There are certain films where passive watching is simply unacceptable, and watching something like Morvern Callar exhausted does you no more good than tackling A Light In August while you’re still struggling with Dick & Jane.

How Was It?: I’ve quoted Godard’s old maxim that the best way to criticize one film is to make another before. That said if you want to see why I loathed Enter The Void watch Morvern Callar. Both are aggressively first person films about hedonism as a response to despair (among other things) but Enter The Void is Enter The Void, and not to get hyperbolic but Morvern Callar is a masterpiece.

Two of the things that cinema does better than any other medium is the potrayal of texture and a state of mind, and Morvern Callar does both of those things better than just about any movie I’ve ever seen. Darkly comic, dislocative, and impressionistic Morvern Callar is a wonder. 

At times a desolate tone poem, at times a female version of Withnail and I, at all times simply itself.&The film follows Movern a working class Scottish girl whose boyfriend has committed suicide. He’s left himself as a present underneath her Christmas Tree and the manuscript of his first novel blinking on her computer screen. Along with his corpse and his manuscript he has left a mixtape for Morvern (an act of such extreme precocious passive aggression that one can’t help but imagine Natalie Portman’s character doing something similar in a ghoulish follow up to the Garden State) which provides the films haunting soundtrack/ironic counterpoints.

Scott Tobias gave the film a strong feminist reading when he suggested that Morvern Callar is in its simplest terms the story of a put upon girlfriend who decides not to clean up the last mess her boyfriend left for her.  Not that the film ever puts so fine a point on it, Morvern is one of those rare film characters who keeps her secrets. The fact that Morvern herself would be unable to articulate as much goes a long way to explaining how well the film works. Still as theories go, it’s a useful guideline in the film, because Morvern is not going to react how you think she might to the final mess.

There is a strange and wild vitality to Morvern Callar both as a character and as a film. Samantha Morton gives one hell of a performance (she’s on screen in every scene if not every shot). Anime eyes haunted and wild in her gamine face, she’s as much a mystery to herself as she is to her friends and to us. Ramsay gives us several unbroken close ups where we just look at her and try to pierce the mask has up at any given moment. Very seldom are we able to.

From this film alone I am unhesitant to call Ramsay one of the greatest choreographer’s of music and image currently working in film. No one else could turn Nancy Sinatra’s sublimely silly bit of hippie gibberish “Some Velvet Morning” into a haunting doom laden anthem. And that’s not even the best song choice, that would have to go to the brutally ironic track that is partnered with the films haunting closing moments.

Her style is a mixture of spontinatity and fierce will. Unlike the mumblecore broodmind that has highjacked indie cinema what Ramsay does only looks easy. But it never is. For all the life in Movern Callar there’s not one lazy frame in it.

Morvern Callar is a bracing shot of hundred proof cinema which demonstrates what weak beer so much of what we are offered really is.


Unknown said...

I think this is the first film I saw with Samantha Morton in it and instantly developed a cinematic crush on her. That, and her turn in JESUS' SON are among my fave performances of hers.

MORVERN CALLAR certainly isn't a film I would recommend to everyone but those up for challenging fare might dig this film, if only for Morton's performance. Oh yeah, and, as you mentioned, the soundtrack is pretty awesome, too.

Wilde.Dash said...

Love this film and really hoping it gets a bit more of the following it deserves once Kevin hits it big (as it certainly will). For me, oddly enough, it is one I'll pop in on a whim...

thevoid99 said...

I'm currently nearly finished with my Cannes Marathon with one more film to go before the last day of the festival this Sunday.

Right now, this film remains my favorite of what I've seen in the marathon. I just love the presentation of it along with that scene with the song "Some Velvet Morning".

I'm hypnotized by the film as I've still managed to keep the video file I've downloaded a few weeks ago since I can't find it right now on DVD. It's definitely raised my interest for We Need to Talk About Kevin and Lynne Ramsay herself.

Great review.

le0pard13 said...

It's now in the old Netflix queue because of this fine review, Bryce. Thanks.

p.s., let's not forget Samantha's small but stellar role in MINORITY REPORT ;-).

Cortez The Killer said...

Wow, this sounds phenomenal. Netflix-ing ASAP!

Jinx said...

Wow, I really must see this. So surprised I haven't already as I read the book years ago and loved it, but frankly I'd forgotten there even there even was a film till now. Thanks for reminding me.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ JD: For me it's her performance in In America that just destroys me.

@ Wilde: Ironically enough now I probably will too. Though unviewed it seemed a bit daunting.

@ void: Thanks. I definitely need more Ramsay in my immediate future. Don't be surprised if you see a Ratcatcher review pop up in the immediate future.

@ Le0: Man she is great in that.

@ Cortez: Looking forward to reading what you think. In a weird way I feel like this will fit right in on PoT.

@ Jinx: How is the book Jinx? I'd be curious to read it.