Sunday, May 19, 2019

Lynne Ramsay And Samantha Morton Deliver A Mesmerizing Portrait of Coping With Grief In The Excellent Morvern Callar

And so, having now finally watched Morvern Callar, I've seen all four of Lynne Ramsay's feature-film directorial effort. Though Morvern Callar might be the weakest of Ramsay's movies, that's a lot like saying that a specific Carly Rae Jepsen song is her weakest. Jepsen's songs, like Ramsay's directorial efforts, are just varying degrees of exceptional, there really isn't a dud in the bunch. This Morvern Callar is yet another impressive and harrowing piece of filmmaking from one of the best directors working today, one that sees Ramsay turning her artistic focus on people's mental-based struggles in the wake of tragedy onto the story of a woman grappling with her boyfriend's suicide.

Per Lynne Ramsay's modus operandi of keeping violence off-screen, we do not see Morvern Callar's (Samantha Morton) boyfriend commit suicide but we do open on her sitting in a daze next to his corpse and a Christmas tree (the story takes place during the holiday season). Much like in one of the most haunting final shots of Tangerine, situating this brightly lit Christmas tree right next to a character immersed in woe makes the tree come off like a taunting vestige of now-lost happiness, a universal image of external cheer juxtaposed against a human being who is being ravaged by internal woe It's a haunting image to kick-start the movie with and there's plenty more stirring imagery where that came from, you can bet on that.

Morvern Callar's now deceased partner has left her with a suicide note and a manuscript for a book he's written and that's it. Morvern is now on her own and tries her best to just go along with her normal life as if nothing has happened. She doesn't even alert the police or anyone else that her boyfriend has passed. Telling people about his demise would actually make it real for her. In the wake of his passing, she decides to take her friend and co-worker Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) on a luxurious trip to a city in Spain. Even traveling to such an exotic locale cannot erase Morvern's sadness, which follows her everywhere she goes. 

Lynne Ramsay has always been a heavily visual storyteller and that's especially apparent in Morvern Callar, which fixates on perhaps the most isolated protagonist seen in any of her works. Because Morvern is consciously shown to be struggling to connect with other people (save for Lanna or a brief night of passion shared with a man also coping with the death of a loved one), much of the film is dedicated to dialogue-free sequences of Morvern navigating her grief alone. The script, penned by Ramsay and Liana Dognini (and adapted by a book of the same name by Alan Warner), creates numerous gripping sequences out of depicting Morvern's grief that are enhanced because of their dialogue-free manner.

Watching Morvern quietly navigate a world completely oblivious to her circumstances has an immensely haunting quality to it. Whenever dialogue does come into play, it's put to good use, such as in showing how Morvern can be affected by throwaway lines of dialogue that have unintentional relevance to her now deceased partner. This makes day-to-day life akin to walking through a minefield, so it's no wonder Morvern finds peace simply in the quiet of letting bugs crawl over her fingers. After all, bugs won't make comments that remind you of the loved ones you lost, they make perfect companions for Morvern. These dialogue-free sequences depicting Morvern finding momentary peace are just as powerful as the more numerous dialogue-free sequence dedicated to showing Morvern's under-the-surface angst. 

Whatever mood it's attempting to capture, Morvern Callar is a movie that knows how to use purely visual storytelling to make that specific mood come to life in a vibrant manner. Much of this is due to Lynne Ramsay's impeccable direction, which makes good use of her visual-oriented style of filmmaking to subtly convey the despondency the character of Morvern is going through. I especially love how well Ramsay's direction tends to make the character of Morvern stand out in an assortment of crowded environments, like the hustle and bustle of her job or when she's in the middle of a swarm of people in Spain or in that unforgettable ending scene where Morvern is attempting to just dance in a club. 

Ramsay's blocking & staging of these sequences is able to make this characters internal experiences consistently palpable, you never lose tracking of where she is or what she's going through. This makes for plenty of memorable shots (the ending is visual wonder) but on a thematic level, this specific visual trait works as a superb way of reinforcing how the character herself cannot escape her sorrow no matter where she goes. Ramsay's direction keeps Morvern's despair as discernable on a visual level as it is within the characters own head. Morvern's experiences are also beautifully consistently captured within Samantha Morton's lead performance, which may very well be the anchor of the whole production. 

Morton is a marvel in portraying this titular lead character in every respect, she completely vanishes into this role from the opening scene onward and makes all of the sorrow Morvern is enduring devastatingly palpable. Morton is especially good in depicting how Morvern's woe still seeps through even when she's putting on a facade of normalcy for other people like Lanna or a pair of book publishers. It's a mesmerizing piece of top-notch acting that feels as perfect of an accompaniment for Lynne Ramsay's phenomenal direction as french fries are for a cheeseburger. These two elements are just the tip of the iceberg for how Morvern Callar as a film captures its lead characters' grief, with the movie using every tool at its disposal to reinforce Morverns struggles, Even the existing songs it needle drops throughout the runtime have lyrics that feel tailor-made for this specific story. One will never listen to lyrics in Mamas & Papas Dedicated To The One I Love like "While I'm far away from you my baby" the same way again after seeing how they're used in the outstanding motion picture Morvern Callar.

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