A Triumph For The American Film Institute
REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- AFI FEST 2002, the recently concluded international film festival, was by far the best in American Film Institute's history. Held for the first time at Arclight Hollywood, the new movie complex on Hollywood & Vine--the complex incorporates the old Cinerama Dome--AFI FEST offered a generous selection of outstanding works from around the world, both short and long, over a ten-day period.

Twelve films screened in the International Feature Competition, twelve in the International Documentary Competition, thirty-two in the Internation Shorts Competition, and ten each in the American, Latin, European and Aasian regional showcases. In addition, AFI FEST held four special screenings as well as a Made in Germany program which offered nineteen films including the offical German entry in the Best Foreign language Academy Award category, Caroline Link's NOWHERE IN AFRICA.

With all screenings plus box office, lounge, restaurant and live entertainment incorporated under one roof in the ultra-modern ArcLight (and easy parking in an adjoining structure), AFI FEST took the pain out of festival-going. Thanks to an efficient crew (buttressed by numerous volunteer workers), the FEST was a smoothly run, good-spirited affair which offered an abundance of first-rate films. Best of all were the screening rooms with their comfortable seats, good sightlines, superb projection and sound.

Although some of the films shown at the FEST have gone into general release in the USA, such as Denzel Washington's ANTWONE FISHER and Pedro Almodovar's TALK TO HER, many others are still in the distribution pipeline. Among those is one of my personal favorites, MORVERN CALLAR.

Directed by Lynne ("Ratcatcher") Ramsay, adapted by Ramsey and Liana Dognini from Alan Warner's novel, MOVERN CALLAR is a quirky, offbeat, tartly-funny film about a couple of working-class Scottish girls trying to cope with life's bizarre challenges. Morvern, played by Samantha ("Sweet and Lowdown") Morton, is a clerk in a supermarket in a small port town who wakes up one morning and finds her boyfriend's dead body on the floor. A would-be writer, he decided to end his young, unsuccessful life by slitting his wrists.

The unconventional, I-march-to-my-own-beat Morton decides not to inform anyone of her boyfriend's death. Instead, she tells everyone that he has simply gone away, "to another country." Then, on a whim, she puts her name on the novel he left behind and sends it off cold to a major London publisher. After disposing of his body, she takes the money he left her and celebrates at a pub with her best friend Lanna (newcomer Kathleen McDermott)

Lanna is a cheeky, hard-drinking, down-to-earth girl who is the opposite of Morvern--open and easy-to-read. Together they enjoy a special, sisterly relationship, sharing secrets, food, bottles, clothes, baths and cigarettes. Profane, tough-minded and sexy, these two lassies are the Thelma and Louise of the 21st century.

Morvern invites Lanna on a trip to Spain, a package-tour holiday that takes them to a sunny town on the Costa Brava filled with party-hearty fellow Brits. Lanna is in her element here, but the restless, off-center Morvern can't be content with just boozing, techno-dancing and screwing. She takes off on her own, seeking she knows not what, driven by her own, uniquely restless nature.

Just when you think the film is going to settle for being yet another bittersweet portrait of a lost Gen X-er, Ramsay shifts gears and sends things speeding in an unexpected direction. It would be unfair to give away the plot twist; suffice to say that it's a deliciously pleasing one.

Directed deftly by Ramsay, a master of understatement and irony, MORVERN CALLAR is an engaging small film, one that is distinguished by its superb acting and by its hip soundtrack featuring the likes of Velvet Underground, Stereoland and Can.