Monday, October 8, 2012


A female's presence in a (good) road movie is either non-existent (most road movies involve men on some journey to find themselves due to some mid-life crisis or a divorce...There's too many examples to name) or in the form of a small girl partnered with an older man (Alice In The Cities, Paper Moon & Lolita). There's the occasional exception like Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise but generally speaking, it’s true. Women can have a mid-life crisis or go through some devastating event that can make them wanna hit the open road and never look back too (and please don’t say Thelma & Louise. I said GOOD road movie). I guess it was up to a woman (Lynne Ramsay) to bring some legitimacy to the female road movie genre with her sophomore feature; Morvern Callar - a road movie full of planes, trains & automobiles that takes us from Scotland to Madrid to the Spanish desert, then back to Scotland. The style of Morvern Callar is like Claire Denis in her prime (there are moments in Morvern Callar that do remind me of Nenette & Boni and Beau Travail) meets Andrea Arnold's Red Road (and I'm not just making that comparison because they're all female directors). Morvern Callar has the same realistic tone as her first feature; Ratcatcher (most of the cinematography is handheld, the dialogue is very natural and comes off non-scripted and all the moments just seem genuine) yet the atmosphere is a lot more dreamy (but not super David Lynch dreamy). The film's dreaminess is due to Samantha Morton's detached and slightly "off" lead performance, the use of slow motion, minimal dialogue and the soundtrack courtesy of music from artists like Broadcast, Aphex Twin & Boards Of Canada (which is music that you'll pretty much always find on heavy rotation on my iPod). Much like Olivier Assayas, Ramsay is another indie/art house director who doesn’t get enough recognition for her ear and use of great music (both original and pre-existing) in her films. Ramsay also pulled off a very dreamy style without it being so Malick influenced like her 90’s work. All of her early student films, as well as Ratcatcher, were straight outta the school of early Terrence Malick whereas Morvern Callar seemed more of her own style. On a side note, Ratcatcher also remains Ramsay's one and only “gritty” film (I mean how can a film with garbage and rats in almost every scene NOT be gritty?). There was more of a focus on (natural) beauty in her later work starting with Morvern Callar and she doesn’t shy away from showing things that are still kinda unattractive to see on the big screen as far as leading ladies are concerned. Throughout the film we see Morvern (Samantha Morton) prance around her apartment in "granny panties" with unshaven legs and squatting to pee in the bushes.

Morvern Caller represents the Lynne Ramsay that I miss so much. There IS a plot (a pretty straight forward one), but this film is more about the atmosphere. Going back the soundtrack for moment, not much is said (compared to more traditional movies) in the first 10-15 minutes of the film (I mean, there's a lot of background talking and noise but not much of it is really important or key to the story) so we rely heavily on the score. There's other moments like Morvern walking through a noisy rave with annoying techno music playing but she has her headphones while walking through the crowd not talking to anyone, or the scene where she hooks up with a random stranger in his hotel room yet hardly anything is said between the two of them. These are moments where music makes up for the lack of dialogue...

Morvern Callar is a rather unique take on dealing with the death of a loved one. The film starts on Christmas morning moments after Morvern's boyfriend (James) has just committed suicide on their kitchen floor leaving behind an unpublished book with instructions on what publishers to mail the book to. Instead of freaking out, Morvern is in a bit of a daze. Not even in shock. Its more along the lines of she doesn’t really care/hasn’t fully processed the fact that her dead bloody boyfriend is laid out on the kitchen floor. She follows his instructions on what to do with the book with the exception of one little change - she takes his name off as the author and puts her name on it instead. To me, this move on Morvern’s part was her way at getting back at her boyfriend who left her (maybe there were some unfinished things left between Morvern and James or maybe she felt cheated not getting that chance to say goodbye). Two interesting things about Morvern's boyfriend is that at no point in the film does she ever tell anyone he's dead (with the exception of one moment where she blurts it out to her friend but no one hears it) and just from a few lines spoken about James from the supporting cast we get to know him pretty well (he's kind of a gloomy, dark person...I guess that all adds up to him committing suicide, huh?). We get that James was still a pretty good boyfriend. Before killing himself he left behind personal Christmas gifts that Morvern seemed to really love (one of which is a personal mixtape titled; “music for morvern”, and the other is a leather jacket that she wears through the first third of the film which kinda reminds the audience of James’ presence even though he's dead). Instead of mourning, she cleans out James’ account (he left behind his bank card for her) and goes about her regular routine (she goes to a party, goes to work, hangs out with her friend, etc). She eventually uses her boyfriend's money and takes her friend (Lanna) on a vacation to Madrid. While on vacation Morvern and Lanna having a falling out between taking drugs and hooking up with random guys (we come to find out that James cheated on her with Lanna). Morvern ditches her in some random Spanish desert to meet up with two book publishers who're interested in her boyfriend's book (well...Morvern’s book now). As it turns out, the book is really good and she strikes a six figure deal. Over night she goes from being a broke grocery store clerk to having over $100,000 in her bank account. With that money she continues to travel (after making peace with Lanna) and the film ends on a rather open/subjective note with Morvern waiting at a train station platform. Besides Morton's detached performance (she's always great in my opinion) Kathleen McDermott (Lanna) is also a delight. Her performance is natural, cute, funny and according to the actress herself (on the special features of the DVD) the character she plays isn’t that much different from her real self.

Subtlety is another one of Ramsay's strengths with this film. At first glance Morvern Callar doesn't fit in with other classic road movies but when you take a step back and think about it for a minute you'll see that it has just as much sex, drugs & rock n' roll as other classic road movies like Two Lane Blacktop or Easy Rider. You also forget about the whole name change/book publishing part of the story up until the very end (the only time Ramsay addresses this is at the very beginning & end with one quick mention of it in the middle). By the end of the film its almost like; "oh yeah, I forgot she stole her dead boyfriend's manuscript and put her name on it.

Almost all of the films put out by Palm Pictures (minus Time Of The Wolf) are either about music in some way or it plays a major role in the film - DIG (a documentary about the rivalry between The Brian Jonestown Massacre & The Dandy Warhols), Demonlover (Sonic Youth), Stop Making Sense (Talking Heads), etc. I really can’t stress enough about how important music plays in Morvern Callar. This is one of my favorite recent discoveries (easily one of the 50 best films of the last decade) and I'd recommend it to just about anyone without reservation (something I usually have to do with most films I really like these days). My tagline for this film would be "an artsy chick flick that men can enjoy." Besides Claire Denis and Andrea Arnold (who I’m starting to feel is somehow spiritually connected to Lynne Ramsay as far as style is concerned), fans of Marina De Van (another progressive female director) and last year's I Travel Because I Have To (a similar premise to Morvern Callar except told from a male's perspective) will love this.

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