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Morvern Callar

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Short of a letter penned in blood, a good mix tape may be the most personal and intimate gift one lover can give to another, at least among Nick Hornby types. In Lynne Ramsay's evocative, often startlingly beautiful second feature Morvern Callar, Samantha Morton inherits a homemade tape and a Walkman from her boyfriend, who commits suicide under the Christmas lights in their apartment. Throughout the film, tracks from the expertly chosen playlist (which includes Can, Aphex Twin, Stereolab, Boards Of Canada, and The Velvet Underground, among others) take on the quality of a mourning ritual, the boyfriend's way of speaking to Morton from beyond the grave. In a brilliant touch, Ramsay abruptly cuts off a song and filters it down to the quiet, tinny bleed outside of Morton's headphones, a poignant reminder that she's immersed in her own private world. Therein lies the challenge: Morvern Callar not only attempts to reveal an interior life, usually the province of novels, but also focuses on the interior life of a woman who refuses to open up to anyone. Morton plays the title character close to the chest, reacting to the suicide with an eerie nonchalance that could be read as shock or apathy. In either case, Ramsay doesn't care so much about prodding along the audience's feelings, instead eyeing Morton from a sympathetic distance, allowing her peculiar behavior to do all the talking. A natural companion to Tsai Ming-liang's brilliant What Time Is It There?, Morvern Callar considers the mourning period with the same offbeat curiosity, as well as a melancholy tone that's relieved by welcome bits of dark humor. Based on Alan Warner's novel, the shaggy-dog story sets Morton on the road after she disposes of her boyfriend's body, submits his finished manuscript to publishers under her own name, and withdraws some cash from his savings account. Eager to get out of town, she heads off to a Spanish resort with her bubbly friend Kathleen McDermott, a fellow hedonist who seems content to bounce around clubs and parties for the indefinite future. Morton finds her an amusing distraction (the two are nominal "best friends"), but after a few days, McDermott's utter lack of reflection begins to wear on their relationship. A stunning advance on Ramsay's lyrical debut feature, Ratcatcher, and her widely admired shorts—all of which focused intently on the miseries of working-class Glasgow—Morvern Callar pares its story down to skeleton bones, grafting the loose pieces with hypnotic, exacting impressions of its heroine's life. Ramsay's refusal to explain away Morton's behavior flies in the face of countless other films about death, which are overly concerned with finding emotional release and closure. At times, Morton seems a little hard to figure out, but that's because Ramsay feels that part of her pain is unknowable, or at least open to interpretation.