Painterly, yes. Action-packed, no
Thursday 15 August 2002
Widely expected to be the most important Scottish film since Trainspotting, Lynne Ramsay's version of Alan Warner's acclaimed novel was an obvious choice to open Edinburgh's Film Festival. But anyone anticipating a similarly fast-paced, sardonic yarn will be sorely disappointed by this slow-moving, almost action-free 90 minutes.
Morvern (Samantha Morton) is a poker-faced shopgirl from Oban, who wakes one day to find her boyfriend dead beside her, a suicide determined to leave his mark after death by asking her to post his novel's manuscript to a London publisher. She does so – but changes the author's name to her own. Her life carries on. Blithely disregarding the corpse on the kitchen floor, she parties, socialises and works through her fella's bank account before she finally cracks, and buries his remains in the hills. She then takes her pal Lanna on a dancing and shagging holiday in Spain, where, after running to the hills in horror, she reaches a state of unspoken contentment familiar to anyone who's ever seen a Jane Campion movie, much to the bemusement of her less introspective friend. The publishers like "her" book, too.
That's pretty much it. Morvern, played by Morton with an East Midlands accent as if she's stepped from a Shane Meadows flick, is a quiet, looming presence, a woman who says little yet never fails to explain herself. It's just that no one seems to appreciate her exemplary honesty. As the happily shallow party girl Lanna, the newcomer Kathleen McDermott, discovered on a Glasgow street, is just as good.
And yet it's a strangely unsatisfying experience. Choosing a practically unfilmable source text, strongly dependent on inner dialogue, leaves the work so image-dependent that it becomes little more than a series of tableaux. Morvern's internment of her man under blue Scottish skies, a scene added to give the plot unrequired coherence, marks a striking turning point. The vivid light at the Andalusian feria, where yelling locals chase a sacrificial bullock, fascinates Morvern and bores Lanna, yet stays in the mind.
Perhaps the painterly approach is unavoidable. Morvern Callar is never less than watchable. But there are some things which books do better than cinema.
17 August, 20.30, Glasgow Film Theatre (0141 332 8128)
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