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Hannah Taylor Gordon,
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Still Life is a poignant, quixotic tale of life, love and the afterlife. Meticulous and organized to the point of obsession, John May (Eddie Marsan) is a council worker charged with finding the next of kin of those who have died alone. When his department is downsized, John must up his efforts on his final case, taking him on a liberating journey that allows him to start living life at last.Written by
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The drink, helps you forget, helps you to sleep without dreamin'.
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"Still Life" (2013) (UK, Italy), expertly written, directed and produced by Uberto Pasolini, tells an exquisite, rather poignant story about John May (excellently played by Eddie Marsan in his minimal, but distinguished and moving portrayal of this superficially emotionless, seemingly lonely, occasionally humorous character), a Londoner--living his life of, as it appears to be, not so uncommon solitude within multitude of UK's most populous capital--who is a funeral officer. If somebody dies and there's no obvious close relative, friend or anybody who knows the deceased, the funeral officer steps in and finds out as much as possible about the departed. Funeral officer is, literally, a detective for the dead, deceased, departed.
In greater remainder of this review I'm letting the two most powerful creative forces behind the movie, director, writer and producer, Uberto Pasolini, and leading actor, Eddie Marsan, express their views, expertise whatsoever, on the subject in certainly well inspired words taken from their interviews included in additional features of the film's DVD edition.
As the one who's been working on the project a good number of years, Uberto Pasolini elaborates extensively: "I did read an article about funeral officers or people who work for local councils and are in charge of finding the relatives of people who have died alone, and in the absence of relatives they take charge of the funeral arrangements. What struck me was the idea that there are, literally, in this country thousands of funerals every year that are not attended by anybody. Many of the people who do this job, organize funerals and do attend the funeral of their clients. But some people are so busy, or so distracted by other problems in their work, that they arrange the ceremony but then do not attend. And therefore, you have churches, chapels, crematoria where coffin is alone, and, furthermore, if coffin is buried in a funeral, nobody is around it, nobody is there to witness the last moment on earth of the person in question. And... the thing that struck me more than anything else was this image of a grave, a forgotten grave, a grave abandoned, a grave that has seen no one around it at any point, the idea that there's somebody there under that mound of earth, but there was nobody there to witness that passage from life to death. And... it really did strike a very powerful cord, the idea that in a society like ours, and in most western societies in fact, people can not only be forgotten in life, but, even more so, forgotten in death. And the idea that there are people who are in charge of those lost moments, and how some of these people can handle their work with humanity, with the sense of the value of the individual, with the sense of the importance of every single life, in spite of the fact that they know very often very, very little about the life of the person who has died. And I was fortunate enough to meet some of the people in London who do this job... and indeed they did have that extraordinary sense of value of lives forgotten... They had a sense of the importance of every single life, no matter how little impact it seemed to have had on the world around them... At the end of the day it provided me with an excuse to make a film about loneliness, a film about solitude and loneliness in particular. A film about how, in general, we can be alone in a big city, but in particular many people end their lives, and not unfortunately always as old people, but sometimes young people, too, end their lives without any form of communication with the outside world, forgotten, forgotten by the system, forgotten by their relatives, forgotten by people who, you would consider, could've been their friends, and die alone... I was not particularly interested in witnessing the death of somebody alone - I think that is the corollary to our story - but I was interested in telling how often this happens, and in showing how our society has arrived at a situation where people fall through the cracks and are literally forgotten.
So, it is a film about loneliness, but it's also film about, to me, the importance of every single life... The fact that lives are forgotten, the fact that people are forgotten, does not mean that, first of all they should be, and secondly that even in lives that are forgotten, at the end of their journeys, those lives have had an impact on people, the world, society, individuals... along their course.
... As a portrait of our society... it is very damning portrait in... the notion that our world enables us to forget individuals, to allow people to have no communication with the outside world, to allow people to become so isolated that at the moment of death they are alone, and after the moment of death they remain alone... that is terrible indictment to our society...
... Whether the story is compelling or not I'll leave (to) others to decide... The way I made it compelling to myself is to turn the issue of loneliness in to a personal story, and... the central character, who is himself a lonely character, who is himself the kind of character that could end up not only dying alone, but being buried... with nobody present at the funeral has a lot of me. And I'm not suggesting that I'm alone... but... one questions oneself how close relationships are, how truthful they are, how long lasting those relationships are, how meaningful your presence is to the people that are around you throughout your life. And... to me the notion of loneliness in life and loneliness in death are very much linked in the story, and therefore, our central character, the central character we have created, is character who in his own life is a very lonely man, he's a man who doesn't feel the loneliness, doesn't know about how to live a fuller life, a complete life, a life of relationships, a life of interchange between the personal and the work that he has. He dedicates his whole life to his work, and if he has a family, then his family is made up of his clients, the dead people he ends up burying and at whose funerals he's always, always the only person present. And he dedicates not only his time and his efforts to the lives of his dead clients, but also his emotional life and his imagination, he attempts at creating, recreating ideas, notions of the lives of the dead by the small fragments of lives... that he witnesses in the places of their death, in the places of their life, where they were living when they were found dead. And he writes eulogies for these people, for the priests, for the celebrants to read out at the funerals, at the services, and very often these eulogies are imagined, or certainly have a very great deal of imagination in them to flesh out, to show how he needs to give them a bigger past... a complete, a fuller life than he could gather strictly from the remnants that they have left behind. And... these people are his life, these people are the people he cares for and... in that way he's the example, the best example of a humane society, a society deep in the understanding of the value of lives. No life should be forgotten, and that is what he does, he doesn't accept the notion that simply because someone has died alone, and might have nobody connected, friends, relatives at their funeral, they should be forgotten at that last moment, at that last official moment on earth...
Audiences have different needs when it comes to pleasure. I've seen, obviously, audiences enjoying laughing, and enjoying good time out... and enjoying action, and enjoying speed. This is on the hole something that this film will not give them, not speed, not a great deal of action, some amusing moments, because life in truth has lots of amusing moments on a daily bases... if you give yourself the time to observe it. But, it is a film that moves, and I have seen audiences wanting to be moved, wanting to be emotionally transported, wanting to be reminded that they have humanity in them that can be reawakened or can be prompt a bit in cinemas. I have seen films where people wanted to cry, and cried, and were happy to cry. The film, although it deals with sad issues, it deals with weaknesses in our society, it is not... the pressing film at all, in spite of its subject... It has some sad moments, but it is a film that... leaves you with the great deal of love for your fellow human being, and with a very positive sense of the value of life and your neighbor... "
As another one who understands the main character certainly better than others, because he had to identify with him in order to bring him to life on the big screen, Eddie Marsan offers additional cleaver observations: "Character of John May is a man who lives on his own. He's not lonely man, he's just an isolated man and man who lives on his own and within the development of the story he researches the life of a man who lived opposite him, in a block of flats, who died alone and in researching this life it opens up John May's life... I would describe the movie as being a study on mortality, and loneliness and the importance of sharing your life... It's about living on your own, and it's about people who die on their own and lonely. And because of that it's also a film about values, your family and the people around you. So, it explores one thing by showing the absence of another... It shows the absence of belonging in order to make a film which is... about promoting belonging, really."
Joanne Froggatt appears in a short, but remarkably subtle supporting role (as Kelly Stoke), and her interaction with the main character leads to a well fitting and uplifting ending.
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