In a recent article for the Guardian newspaper on rereading LP Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, the novelist Ali Smith wrote that the novel was a model for the importance of rereading as “we wouldn’t, after all, expect to know a piece of music properly on just one listen”. I not only agree, I would also add that the same can be said for films. How many films have you seen just the once, and when mention or discussion of them resurfaces, you perhaps struggle to recall it or your views on it? You may remember certain bits, but the finer, deeper details escape you? Happens to me all the time. I have been thinking lately of a few films that, for different reasons, have popped back into my head and that I’d like to watch again. Having recently read Alan Warner’s last novel, The Stars in The Bright Sky, the first film that occurred to me was Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Warner’s 1995 debut novel, Morvern Callar.
There is another reason for revisiting Morvern, and that’s the upcoming release of Ramsay’s screen adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. Its Ramsay’s first film since Morvern Callar eight years ago – and only her third feature since graduating from film school in 1995 – an absolute age in cinematic terms. Since her debut feature film Ratcatcher (1999), Ramsay has gained a reputation as a film-maker of great talent, with an artistic and Auteurist sensibility. Her version of Shriver’s unsettling novel has already made a great impression at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Morvern Callar opens when the character of the title (played by Samantha Morton) finds her boyfriend dead on the living room floor on Christmas morning, after taking his own life. He has left her some money and a finished novel on the computer hard drive. For reasons we are not privy to, Morvern changes the name on the novel from his to hers and promptly sends it off to the first publisher on a list left by her boyfriend. She then proceeds to get ready to go out for a night on the town.
Morvern spends her days working in a local supermarket in the unnamed Port town where she lives. With some of the money left by the boyfriend(to cover funeral expenses) she takes herself and her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) off for a package holiday to Spain. What I remembered most after first seeing the film was that basic, slim storyline – bereaved girl goes a bit mad, heads off to Spain with her mate, does shedloads of drugs and booze and generally has a wild time. But on rewatching it, I see that it is a cinematic essay on grief and grieving. Ramsay puts us inside Morvern’s experience, we see her world as she sees it – the sense of dislocation, the way everyday objects suddenly look unfamiliar or odd, they way your focus shifts, seeing everything suddenly more clearly but differently.
Ramsay brings an art-cinema aesthetic to Warner’s story. There are countless scenes where she allows cinematic time to slow all the way down. Morvern taking a bath, watching the body of her dead boyfriend on the floor while the Christmas tree lights go on and off, baking with Lanna ( in a gorgeously shot slow-motion sequence) – none of these add to the story but rather serve to put us in Morvern’s head. There is a wonderful marraige of image and music in a number of scenes, such as the house party and a trippy clubbing scene. There is also the uncomfortable sense that her boyfriend’s death could be a liberation for Morvern, an opportunity for her to get away finally, to escape, and this is what she eventually does.
The film is beautifully shot by Alwin Kuchler; moving from the dark, rainy, night-time streets and interiors of the Port, to the sun and blistering heat of Spain. There is a whole sequence too where the film stock suddenly changes to a washed out, sepia-tone as the girls drive up into the Spanish hills; I wonder if this was intentional, but either way it looks fantasic. The soundtrack and the sound design are also worth a mention – one of the things that struck me in the earlier parts of the film, was that the only music we hear is what Morvern plays on her cassette Walkman. I hadn’t noticed that first time around, and it’s highly effective. The film is crammed with bold moves like this.
So, like rereading, there is a lot to be said for rewatching. There are countless films I love to watch over and over; films grow and develop, as we do as viewers, and you read more, see more each time. What are the films you’d like to see 2nd time round, if any, and why?