"Sweet and Lowdown" mute Samantha Morton takes on an only slightly more verbal role as Morvern Callar, the title heroine of a puzzling little film that's somber, subdued and subtle ... sometimes to the point of obscurity.
Inscrutable Scottish lassie Morvern becomes a relationship widow when her boyfriend commits suicide at Christmastime, leaving behind a brief note, some gifts and the manuscript of his novel for posthumous publication. But rather than report his death to anybody, Morvern cleans out his bank account and uses the ill-gotten gains to pay for a fortnight's holiday in Spain with a mischievous pal (Kathleen McDermott.) Before their departure, she mails his book out as instructed to a potential publisher -- but with herself credited as author, a subterfuge she apparently sees as a down payment on her future.
If her Ibizan exploits are any guide, that future will be defined by booze, drugs, promiscuity and raving until dawn. Either mourning isn't what it used to be, or Morvern is going through a process of sublimation the movie would rather hint at than explain. Even in the midst of her seeming vacation from culpability, she's visibly preoccupied with bugs and other symbols of eternal mortality.
So little dialogue of substance intrudes on the moody goings-on that we have all the more opportunity to ponder what a good-looking film director/co-writer Lynne Ramsay has assembled (from Alan Warner's novel). Her take on the material is full of smart shot composition and effective visual motifs, like the Christmas lights that strobe across the carcass of the dead James. Life and light are fleeting in Morvern's milieu. Unconsciously echoing her boyfriend's rejection of the physical plane, the character is on her own quest to discover a life less mundane. The wanderlust is not one that any vacation package can satisfy.
"There's nothing wrong with that place. I was having a great time," her friend Lanna complains after one abrupt uprooting, unknowingly forming a poignant choose-life credo. That's more than we get from Morvern, whose moral ambivalence surfaces in an earlier scene that shows her removing pin money from her dead beau's pocket. Her one-word whisper epitomizes everything that's both interesting and frustrating about the film: "Sorry."