The first; Morvern Callar, is based on Alan Warner's Scottish cult novel of the same name. Its cinematic version is written and directed by award-winning indie-darling Lynne Ramsay of Ratcatcher (1999) fame. Samantha Morton, who most American audiences will know from In America, stars in the title role of Morvern Callar, as a pale, depressed, bored and interned Scottish supermarket clerk.

There is not much of story here. On Christmas day, Morvern finds her boyfriend dead, apparently by suicide. Among the things left to her are a bank account and an unpublished but soon-to-be very
profitable novel that Morvern as a kind of Gedanken-Experiment promptly passes off as her own. The focus of the inheritance is money and the alternative reality and music-video-like life money can allow for—the change in perspective, the self-discovery it commands. This is rightly a commentary on the presence or, omnipresence, I should say, that film seems to have in our lives. 

    There is, of course, like Arthur Miller’s plays a symbolic significance to the protagonist's name:
Morvern as in Morvern's flouting of social “mores”; and her last name a reference to the peculiar phone call she receives at the abandoned train station, 'call[ing] her' and inciting to begin on her path of self-discovery.

    With a new lease on life and a freedom, the quirky Morvern departs with her boon companion Lana to Ibiza, Spain, where the extents of her new 'freedom' take hold. Ramsay lends us an eye to watch Morvern's development through many focalized and close-up shots as she contemplates her new surroundings. Ultimately Morvern withdraws herself from her wild life and friends, after making the familiar rounds of drug abuse, alcoholism and copulation that we have come to expect from these films, especially those starring Samantha Morton.

    The New World differs from Morvern Callar in that it takes place in 17th century America at the coming of the "new world." It begins as John Smith's story, played by Colin Farrell, but turns quickly to the female protagonist—Pocahontas, played by a fifteen-year-old newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher. The New World is, properly, a retelling of the Pocahontas story; even though Pocahontas is intentionally never named in the film and is practically mute throughout.

    The movie is directed and written by acclaimed director Terrence Mallick. Some of Mallick's films like the war drama The Thin Red Line (1998) have been considered slow-moving, too reliant on
post-production dubbed voiceovers, inaccessible and difficult to understand, but The New World is undoubtedly a masterpiece. One may jump to the conclusion that at a running time of 135 minutes, with very little narration, The New World is a glorified naturescape and advertisement for the "new homeland." But that would demean the scope of Mallick's art. Mallick is a contemplative director and The New World is a lyrical gem of a film that offers one of the most beautiful and best appreciations of the first contact between the British and Native Americans. Instead of coming down hard and heavy-handed on the British as apathetic imperialists, Mallick prefers to merely to observe the human reality and relationships that exists between individuals as he sees it—a reality that is particularly comforting
and revealing living in these 'imperialist times.'

    In a career that spans nearly forty years, Mallick, has built a legacy as one of the most respected and admired directors not for output—a pithy four feature-length films—but for his craftsmanship. His exacting and demanding standards of himself as director/artist and his crew may be said to account for his dearth of production. The script for The New World was said to be written by Mallick in the 70s
and it seems no wonder that the movie was not finally released until 2005 with the careful stylizing and list of restrictions and rules Your browser may not support display of this image.that Mallick lay down in pre-production:

1) No artificial lights. All film must be shot in natural light.
2) No crane or dolly shots, just handheld or Steadicam shots.
3) All film must be shot in the subjective view.
4) All shots must be 'deep-focus shots,' everything (foreground and background) is visible and focused. 5) The camera crew was encouraged to go and shoot unexpected things—in the
end over one million feet of film was shot.
6) Selective shots: any shot that does not have visual strength is not used.

But Mallick's convictions pay off.

    Both Morvern Callar and The New World are visual masterpieces that can be praised as truly poetic films. At their best they are deftly explored character studies that make use of unorthodox film
techniques to further the self-discovery of the characters on screen as well as for us the viewer. But what is most outstanding about these films is the way in which they separate out the auditory and visual
components of film and treat each as an individual entity. In each the director brings us closer to the point at which we as an audience have learned and come to depend on the synergy of sound and action on screen. From the beginning of each movie, we are shown entirely new visual coordinates where sound is totally absent—as in the first movies. We are directed only to look at what we have before us: in the opening scene of Morvern Callar the dead body of Morvern's boyfriend—a scene that vaguely resembles Fiona Apple's 'Criminal' video—and in the opening scene of The New World—the 'new world' that the settlers see before them.

    In this setting, sound is a fragile frequency that allows only for sparse dialogue. When sound does break the air, it is a jarring cacophonous stream that may issue forth from the chaotic mixtape that
Morvern's boyfriend has left her, and will serve as the soundtrack to Morvern's new life, or the linguistic disharmonies and disjunction of custom between native and settler that is also particularly jarring.

    Where language or custom fails, when Morvern travels to Ibiza, Spain on her joyride, or when Pocahontas travels to Britain, what unites characters together is the uniformity, but, at the same time, uniqueness of habitation or landscape. Frequently in these films, Pocahontas and Morvern are contrasted with a landscape. They become symbols of a kind of 'brave new world' in the plots of these movies but also for film in general, where a freer more improvised Steadicam shot can free us from passive-observers into active participants in film-making and renewed self-examination through film. What a wonderful proposition!
TAR
Send this review to a friend
Morvern Callar
&
The New World
Reviewed by Jason Rotstein
Film Reviews
The Adirondack Review
  Realism, we sense, is an anachronistic barometer for critiquing film today in these post-modern times. “Realism,” however, is still more than category or context. The fact is that photography, the same photography that proposes to capture the fleeting reality of what our eyes see, has advanced to the point where it not only eclipses 'what our eyes can see' but can actually inform and influence our perspective. In film, it could be argued, this statement may be even more accurate where it is common to see: the use of multiple cameras, time-extended shots and, of late, silver nitrate reprocessing methods to remove shadows in tandem often with staining and dyeing techniques. All of this to say that movie-making is more an “art” than ever before—the assumption we as moviegoers make that the choice to employ these techniques is of consequential import to the understanding of movie-making in the post-modern era.

    I would offer two films of the last five years as reference points for discussing “realism” in film today. Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar (2002) and Terrence Mallick's The New World (2005) can be seen as visions of filmic potential in today’s medium. Both films are similar in theme and composition.