The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My love for Lynne Ramsay’s image poetry

with 7 comments

A young woman’s boyfriend dies. She’s left with enough money to buy herself and a friend a charter week on Ibiza. But she also gets something more: the manuscript of a novel that he’s been working on and a request that she should send it to a publisher. And so she does, but only after she has switched his name on the title page for her own.

Doesn’t this sound like a highly usable story for a movie? I mean, you can tell it in so many different ways.

It could be a crime thriller: what’s the truth about the death of her boyfriend. Is it really as we’re set up to believe at the start? And will she get away with the script theft or will someone get suspicious?

It could also be a feel-good movie: she meets people during her journey and step by step they make her realize that she’s done a bad thing. She’ll confess, make a walk of shame, fall in love with some guy who also has done a big mistake in his past. Finally she’ll write a book of her own based on her experiences and it will become a huge success.

It could be a tragedy, a morbid comedy, even a musical. Hedwig and the Angry Inch showed that musicals very well can deal with serious and dark topics.

Sticky cinematography
Lynne Ramsay went for something different with Morvern Callar. She made it into what I’d best describe as an impressionistic art film. I can’t recall any dialogue from the film, though I assume people must have spoken to each other once in a while. But this film isn’t about words; it’s all about images.

I’m not necessarily a fan of films picturing people walking around in the world with a miserable look in their eyes, doing random things or – in worst case – nothing at all. Sometimes it works for me, as in the case of . SomewhereSometimes it bores me out of my mind, as with The Comedy. And I’m not capable of telling what exactly makes it go one way or the other.

In the case of Morvern Callar there’s no question of what makes me embrace it, despite the fact that I’m not completely on board with the main character. It’s in the cinematography, which has that special Ramsay feel to it. As with the two other Ramsay films I’ve seen, the images stick in my mind, like a shadow of the sun remains on your eyelids when you’ve been looking directly at the sun even if your mum told you not to. In Ratcatcher it’s a boy running through a field under a blue sky.  In We Need to Talk about Kevin it’s a woman covered in tomato juice and laundry in a backyard moving with the wind. In Morvern Callar it’s blinking Christmas lights as seen from a floor perspective.

The storytelling
“Hey there!” says my inner critic. “What about the storytelling then? Don’t you always claim that you prefer movies that tell a story to movies that are like poems or art installations? Isn’t that exactly what this is?” My answer is: no. The storytelling is somewhat slow and a quite subtle, as you have to second guess what’s going on in the mind of Morvern from her facial expressions and from her – sometimes irrational – actions. But the fact remains: not once did I look down on my watch to check the time. I was too wrapped up in the mood and the music and the flow of images to remember that I had a wrist watch and that the film had an end.

The only conclusion I can draw is that this poem of a film worked for me.

Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, UK 2002) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

November 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Morvern Callar

7 Responses

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  1. I love Morvern so much – I’m so happy it has another fan! Thinking of it as an impressionistic poem of a film is right, I think; demanding it be a more straightforward sort of story will only leave one frustrated. And I think the impressionistic style suits the subject so well – we are immersed in Morvern’s world, the subjectivity of her experience and her feelings, and yet, at the same time, her thoughts, her reasons are very much a blur to us; we see her and feel with her somehow, but we don’t truly understand her – and I love that. Our block to understanding via the rationale mind sidesteps our right to judge her – her actions seems hideous in so many ways, and yet, when we, clearly, cannot read her mind – it is deliberately made opaque to us – how can we judge? We simply, on some level, just have to accept.

    In short, I think it’s such a lovely conundrum of a film – so sensuous in its sounds and images, inviting us in but then, at the same time, blocking our entrance. Ramsay, I think, always gives me an EXPERIENCE in film, more than anything. A little like Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, maybe, side-stepping reason and heading straight for subjectivity.

    • Thank you for your comment Melissa, as always you put the rest of us at shame with your insight. As you say it’s a bit hard to completely understand or sympathize with her actions. But somehow I was still mezmerized by the film. It had me from the start, wtih the blinking christmas lights.


      November 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm

  2. Seeing this film last year for my Cannes marathon changed me. After that, I became a full-on Lynne Ramsay fan and even wrote an essay about this film.


    November 22, 2012 at 2:04 am

    • I can definitely imagine you could write essays about her movies.


      November 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm

  3. What a coincidence! I just watched this movie the other night, and I too very much enjoyed it. Morton here, strangely, reminded me of Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, and while this movie didn’t hit the mark of that one, I still enjoyed it immensely. Lynne Ramsay is very skilful and worth following.


    November 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

    • That’s a coincidence considering its age. I was lucky to see it on a big screen last week as we showed it at my local film club.


      November 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

  4. […] Earlier this year, Jessica and I recorded a podcast about Lynne Ramsey’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. Jessica has revisited Ramsey’s filmography, and discovered it to be a visual feast. […]

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