Thursday, 28 May 2015

Still Life (2013)

Anyone who was rightly moved by Carol Morley's beautiful 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life about Joyce Vincent, a woman whose body lay undetected in her flat for three years, will be equally moved by Still Life, a fictional tale about such overlooked bereavements and the one man whose precise and methodical nature means he is dedicated to giving them the fitting send off they deserve. Be warned though, you better have some tissues at the ready because this one is heartbreaking.

There's more than a touch of Mike Leigh to the proceedings too, most notably in the hangdog, forlorn features of Eddie Marsan, a long time Leigh leading man and an equally long time favourite of mine, in the central role of John May, the civil servant whose job it is to try and locate the friends and relatives of life's flotsam and jetsam now recently deceased. It's May's personal investment and dedication to his thankless role that immediately endears him to the audience, especially when we see his superiors and colleagues who view these literal lost souls as a chore to sign off on as soon as possible. When we see that May lives the same kind of lonely existence as those who cares for in their demise, living a solitary, pernickity existence eating tuna and toast at home, our hearts go out to him and, when  those superiors decide to make May redundant we are angry and saddened for him, this precise funny little man of almost Chaplinesque status who refuses to let his last case - a neighbour from the same block of flats - go without his usual exemplary commitment.

Made in 2013 but only released to the cinema and DVD market earlier this year, Still Life is a wonderfully subdued melancholic film which writer/director Uberto Pasolini invests with several equally subdued and subtle sight gags, tipping the wink to an audience who has given this story of lives lost and lives half lived its undivided attention. It’s a deeply touching experience with a sublime and plaintive score from Rachel Portman that, like Marsan, could easily have come from a Mike Leigh film too.  

As May's last case takes him (and us) on an odyssey to find people who cared about his deceased neighbour enough to attend the funeral he so painstakingly and lovingly arranges, he finds the man's estranged daughter Joanna Froggatt and, for a time, it seems like the film is about to tie itself up in a beautiful, sentimental, albeit cliched bow...but for all its subtlety this is a subversive little film and I was unprepared for where it took us come those final moments, which left me deeply moved and rather heartbroken.

Extremely recommended.

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