STYLIZED SOUL SICKNESS: Morvern Callar

morvernThe Scottish film Morvern Callar (the R’s are silent) that won a couple of prizes at Cannes last year has taken its own bitter time wending through the States, and it isn’t difficult to see why. The movie, adapted by Liana Dognini and director Lynne Ramsay from Alan Warner’s novel, isn’t merely dreadful, it’s execrable.

Samantha Morton walks through the title role—a working class young woman so simple, dumb, and crude that when her boyfriend commits suicide at yuletide, she leaves his corpse on the floor for days (beside the tree with blinking lights) before she finally gets around to tossing a blanket over him. Morvern even unwraps her Christmas presents with the dead body fully exposed. She doesn’t call the police, she doesn’t call medics to haul the body away. Instead, the girl goes out to a loud, drunken party where windows are smashed and young hotties hurl themselves through a bonfire; she shares a bathtub soak with her best girlfriend, a vapid horror named Lanna, and then it’s back to more shots of the bloody corpse. I presume we’re meant to laugh at the sight of this corpse, or laugh at the stupidity of Morvern for not disposing of the body, but it’s the director who looks imbecile. Ramsay stages these scenes as if she were paying homage to Cindy Sherman’s grisly photo shoots. Everything looks posed; we’re constantly aware of Morvern Callar as art. Or as what Ramsay considers to be art.

Eventually, we watch the girl laboriously scrub dried blood off the kitchen linoleum while, of course, she bakes a pizza in the oven. There are repeated shots of the young man’s slashed wrists, but no explanation for the suicide. And—what’s the rush?—Morvern, after tidying house, dismembers her late lover in the bathtub with such Cronenberg-like efficiency that I wondered if the “suicide” were perhaps the reddest of red herrings, that we have been led around by that old trick, an unreliable narrator. But Morvern Callar has neither that nor anything else up its thrift store arthouse sleeve.

Oh, and there’s an unpublished novel that the beau left on a disc; his final request was that Morvern shop the manuscript around to a few houses. What ultimately becomes of this development will surprise and delight only students of Remedial Irony. — NPT

April 2003

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