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Reviews by Dr. Frank Swietek   

MORVERN CALLAR 
C- 
Producer  Robyn Slovo, Charles Pattinson and George Faber 
Director  Lynne Ramsay 
Writer  Lynne Ramsay and Liana Dognini 
Starring Samantha Morton  Kathleen McDermott  Raife Patrick Burchell  Dan Cadan  Carolyn Calder 
Jim Wilson  Dolly Wells  Ruby Milton  Linda McGuire 
Studio  Cowboy Pictures 
Review  As "Morvern Callar" opens, the eponymous heroine awakens beside the corpse of her boyfriend, who has committed suicide and lies, half-naked, on the floor beside her. The reason behind his act is never explained, but after spending 97 excruciating minutes with the girl, a viewer is likely to understand his decision. Simply put, although the film Lynne Ramsay has concocted from Alan Warner's cult novel is elegantly crafted and creates a mood that's hard to shake, it's fundamentally a piece of nihilistic claptrap, so successful in conveying the aimlessness and amorality of modern existence that you're likely to want to flee its baleful influence.

Ward's 1995 book was part of the "Scottish beat" movement of the decade, often named in the same breath with Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting," which Danny Boyle made into a remarkable picture in 1996. But while that book (and its adaptation) had a crazily imaginative quality that carried one along through its mixture of drugged-out obscenity and wild excess, Warner's novel, and Ramsay's slimmed-down and simplified but tonally faithful film, is instead a portrait of vacuous banality and deep-seated angst--cooly and impeccably captured, perhaps, but no less oppressive for that. It's basically a character snapshot ("study" would be too broad a term) of the title figure, a sullen, barely communicative young woman living in a remote, wintry part of Scotland, at what could be a turning-point in her life. Morvern has a miserable job as a supermarket clerk, but with her ebullient best-friend Lanna she breaks free from her ordinarily humdrum existence by losing herself in the bar scene in the evenings. When she finds her boyfriend dead, his last message to her displayed on a computer screen which, along with a flickering Christmas tree, illuminates their grim apartment, she goes on in a daze as though nothing had happened, stepping over the guy's body whenever she needs to get into the kitchen. Eventually she prints out a copy of his just-finished novel, substituting her name for his, and sends it off to a publisher. She also gets rid of the body by chopping it up in the bathtub (a grisly scene, though discreetly filmed) and burying the remains, and then extracts cash from the dead fellow's bank account to go off on a spree in Spain, taking Lanna along. While the duo engage in mindless frolicking there, Morvern gets word that the publisher is interested in the book, and eventually signs a deal for a large sum; she also has a falling-out with Lanna that leads to their returning home separately. Eventually Morvern goes off by herself to a new life, carrying a large advance check with her.

It should be noted that this precis puts into some logical order information which, in Ramsay's telling, is presented in a far more fragmented, allusive way. Despite the fact that the cinematography by Alwin Kuchier (who shot Michael Winterbottom's visually stunning "The Claim") is crisp and clean and the design of the production opts for a generally sterile look, Ramsay manages to impart a dreamlike, hallucinatory quality to the proceedings. The writing is clipped, the dialogue infrequent, and the plot--if you can call it that--kept deliberately ambiguous and opaque; much of the running-time is devoted to watching Morvern as she wanders about, often isolated from reality by the portable recorder she constantly listens to, and occasionally stops for some sexual indulgence. (There's an especially peculiar incident when she comes upon a guy in a hotel room and enjoys a brief fling with him after he morosely informs her--I think-- that his mother has just died.) This puts most of the burden squarely on the shoulders of Samantha Morton, who plays Callar, and she has to be credited with giving the character whatever life and interest it might have. Morton has a naturally appealing personality, and she uses her big eyes and expressive face to suggest currents that might run beneath Morvern's blank exterior. Apart from Kathleen McDermott, who catches Lanna's exuberance well but whose accent is so thick that subtitles would seem mandatory, the supporting cast is basically utilitarian.

But neither Morton's charisma nor Ramsay's studiously coolheaded approach can redeem "Morvern Callar" from the shallowness of its heroine. This is a portrait of alienation so perfect, it will certainly succeed in alienating most viewers. 

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