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Palm Pictures presents
Morvern Callar (2002)

Lanna: I'm happy here.
Morvern: Are ya?
Lanna: Yeah. Everyone I know is here. There's nothing wrong with here. Morvern, it's just the same crap as everywhere, so stop dreaming.

- Samantha Norton, Kathleen McDermott

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: June 03, 2004

Stars: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell
Director: Lynne Ramsay

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language, and some disturbing images.
Run Time: 01h:37m:22s
Release Date: December 16, 2003
UPC: 031398107545
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Morvern Callar is virtually a cipher. She's as unaffected by the sudden inexplicable suicide of her boyfriend as she is by the sight of a bug crawling under a door. She drifts through life, barely reacting to the events that surround her, and when she does react, her actions have little or no connection to their motivating causes. Freed from her mundane working class existence by an unexpected financial windfall, she spends the money on a vacation in Spain, yet is seemingly just as content to return home when the money runs out. And yet, Morvern is a fascinating character, fascinating in her unpredictability and freedom. Unencumbered by any overarching conception of what her life should be like, she takes things as she goes, remaining open to new experiences, and whatever life gives her.

Morvern Callar is based on a novel of the same name by Alan Warner, which received a good deal of critical praise when it was released. The book consists primarily of lengthy descriptions of Morvern's day-to-day life, whether going out with her friends to the pub, the nonsensical get-acquainted activities that open her vacation in Spain, or her many drug-fuelled nights at dance clubs and raves. There is a bit of a plot here (she claims credit for a novel that her deceased boyfriend has written, and sends it off to be published), but the plot's really a MacGuffin. For Hitchcock, the MacGuffin was an arbitrary element (government secrets, hidden uranium) that provided the motivation for the plot, but in the case of Morvern Callar, the plot's the MacGuffin, around which Warner spins a fairly convincing depiction of a young girl's life.

The film is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of what was considered to be an essentially unfilmable book, but it necessarily combines some of the book's events, and in doing so, suffers a bit. The repetition of events in Morvern's life gives the book a sort of circularity, echoing the fact that she is essentially unchanged (and unchangeable) by these events, but by combining them, the film has a more linear character arc, implying that she may change and grow.

Lynne Ramsey is a strongly visual director, although she wisely tones down her style a bit, compared with her first feature Ratcatcher. Color, focus, framing and camera angle are all manipulated. Ramsey frequently breaks the image, for example focusing on parts of a body rather than the whole, and refuses to create a well-defined, easily understandable space. Time is also shattered, sequences often consisting of brief shots that combine in an inconsistent time scale. Morvern herself can't really said to be a whole person in any psychological sense, and Ramsey's style wonderfully mirrors her fractured nature.

In such a character-driven film, it would be a disaster if the acting were less than stellar, and thankfully that isn't the case. Samantha Morton (who received an Oscar nomination for her role in In America) is simply outstanding as the aimless Morvern, in a completely convincing and extremely naturalistic performance. First-time actress Kathleen McDermott is almost as good as Morvern's best friend Lanna. The musical obsessions of Morvern and her deceased boyfriend are given their equivalents on the great soundtrack, which contains music by Can, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Stereolab, and others.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer is quite good, with strong colors and good black levels, although there isn't much shadow detail. Ramsey manipulates the color scheme quite a bit, but the skin tones are realistic when they're meant to be. There are very minor compression artifacts and a bit of edge enhancement. Darker scenes are often slightly grainy.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is outstanding. Great care has been taking in its mixing, and it's filled with incidental and background noises, creating a very realistic sound environment. When appropriate, the 5.1 track has a lot of activity in the surrounds, and the subwoofer kicks in during the club sequences. The two-channel mix is understandably less involving. Given the relatively low-budget nature of the film, it's a pleasant surprise to hear a soundtrack this great.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Work of Director Spike Jonze, The Work of Director Michel Gondry, The Work of Director Chris Cunningham, Demonlover, Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, The Revenge of the Robots
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Printed insert with chapter listing and film credits
Extras Review: The nonanamorphic trailer looks bad, blurry and with yellowish faded color, and compression artifacts abound. There are three short (less than two minute) interviews with Morton, McDermott and Ramsey, where they discuss the casting process, the characters, chemistry between the actresses and their performances. Each interview is cut into segments, introduced by unnecessary titles, and the segments end abruptly. The disc jacket lists "Behind the Scenes Bonus Footage," which apparently refers to these interviews.

There are also previews for six of Palm Pictures' other releases, including their excellent The Work of Director series of discs featuring the work of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry. Annoyingly, the previews can't be chosen from a menu, but rather play sequentially.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Lynn Ramsey's award-winning second feature is an impressive and highly enjoyable depiction of an aimless girl's life. The transfer is good, and despite the less-than-impressive extras, Morvern Callar is well worth a look.


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