In her 1999 debut feature, "Ratcatcher," director Lynne Ramsay discovered a surprising lyricism and tenderness in the life of an impoverished 12-year-old Glasgow boy; now in a Scottish port town, the setting of her "Morvern Callar," Ramsay reaches out boldly with a film that is as unsettling as it is minimalist.
Samantha Morton's title character, a lovely enigma, awakens on Christmas morning to a shocking discovery that will transform her life in ways she could never have predicted. Most likely she has no real context in which to react to this jolt in a conventional manner. What's really important is that this unexpected turn of events has given her the opportunity to escape her supermarket stock clerk job and take off with her friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) on a holiday in Spain.
Adapted by Liana Dognini and Ramsay from the 1995 Alan Warner novel, "Morvern Callar" is suffused with an implicit yearning for freedom and escape from a drab working-class existence, but it also delves into the process of self-discovery she experiences and the challenge she faces in forging a sense of identity when she has lived as marginal an existence as she has. She has spent her days in a boring, low-paying job and nights hitting the clubs with their drinking, drugs and possibilities of casual sex.
Their package holiday lands the pair at a vast, seedy tourist hotel somewhere in Almería, where their evenings are much like those back at home and their days spent lolling about. Morvern probably has no more than a high school education and evinces little interest in much of anything beyond having a good time, but what sets her apart from the likable but ordinary Lanna is that she has the capacity for reflection, undeniable imagination and an adventurous, decidedly reckless streak. She seems to have no close family ties, and she clearly does not feel bound by the rules and conventions of society. She is an individual who lives within herself, has a sense of humor and opens up to life's possibilities beyond Lanna's comprehension.
Ramsay's portrait of Morvern has an admirable spareness and tension as one sequence connects to the next, tautly but with the randomness of Morvern's new existence. The film is almost entirely a visual experience, and the images of cinematographer Alwin Kuchler (who also shot "Ratcatcher") are as beautiful and expressive as Morton's Morvern is herself. While not quite as elliptical and experimental as the films of Nina Menkes, "Morvern Callar" is equally provocative and accrues the emotional impact of the more conventional narrative that is "Ratcatcher." No question about it: "Morvern Callar" confirms Lynne Ramsay as an important, original talent in international cinema.
Times guidelines:Adult themes, situations, sex, drugs
Samantha Morton ... Morvern Callar
Kathleen McDermott ... Lanna
Raife Patrick Burchell ... Boy in Room 1022
Dan Cadan ... Dazzer
Ruby Milton ... Couris Jean, Lanna's grandmother
A Cowboy Pictures presentation of an Alliance Atlantis, BBC Films presentation in association with the Film Council, Scottish Screen and Glasgow Film Fund of a Company Pictures production. Director Lynne Ramsay. Producers Robyn Slovo, Charles Pattinson, George Faber. Executive producers Andras Hamori, Seaton McLean, David M. Thompson, Barbara McKissack, Lenny Crooks. Screenplay by Ramsay and Liana Dognini; based on the novel by Alan Warner. Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler. Editor Lucia Zucchetti. Music supervisor Andrew Cannon. Costumes Sarah Blenkinsop. Production designer Jan Morton. Art director Philip Barber. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
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