A Kind of Rewind – Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)

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?

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3 thoughts on “A Kind of Rewind – Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)

  1. Interesting post, Dez. It got me thinking more about my changing perceptions of, and reaction to, pieces of music I’ve listened to over the years.
    Last Sunday night I turned on the radio to hear Beside You, a Van Morrison song I first heard years and years ago. Back then it was a song of consolation, over some now-forgotten upset. Last weekend it was a straight-up love song. In a decade’s time I’ll probably hear as religious cry.

    Likewise, Born To Run, has gone from being a bombastic song I usually heard in my 20s, while inevitably drinking, to being something else. Listening to it right now, as I am, I hear a scared kid, behind the bluster.

    Just two examples. Given the amount of detail in film/literature/music I wonder if we ever really take it all in, or absorb even most of it.

    My way of approaching this (developed by habit, not design) is to encounter the object impressionistically, if possible, and try to suppress my detective-like urges to find every nook and cranny in the piece. Not sure if you’d agree it’s the best way, but it can lead to varied and, in my opinion, more enjoyable aesthetic effects.

    • Thanks Cormac, I absolutely agree, though it’s all highly subjective of course; it’s coloured by your own experience, state of mind, situation at that point in time. And what’s interesting to me is that it shows that all art really is “living”, it deepens, develops, moves on (or perhaps doesn’t!), if you allow it to.

      I also tend to try to remain open to whatever I’m reading, watching, listening to – certainly for the first time. It takes time to process things too, and work out how you feel about them. But it can be interesting to go back to something from a later vantage point, and see if it still has the same effect, or a different one.

      there’s also a pleasure in revisiting something, just for its own enjoyment. You mightn’t always see/feel something new, but that doesn’t matter, it’s a good feeling nonetheless. Anything that gets us engaging can’t be all bad anyway!

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