In Review: Still Life (2013) on DVD

by Maryann O'Connor on 14/04/2015

Still Life

The gem-like Eddie Marsan plays John May, a council funeral officer in London who gives his all in trying to afford the somewhat forgotten and now deceased members of society a semblance of dignity. His life and crusade come to a head when the man who lived opposite him becomes a client and May determines to ensure the people who knew Billy get to say goodbye. Still Life is considerate, charming and not even a bit mawkish.

Marsan has a great talent of becoming the pure embodiment of whichever character he is playing and here he transforms in front of our eyes from meticulously thorough, solitary, grey man with a great heart, to sociable and light-footed crusader (with a great heart). It is a low key kind of joy and warmth that fills this film, even as the strangely similar houses of the recently deceased are in shot (carefully placed drying socks, pants and tights adorning curtain rails and radiators) and we are lamenting the loss of their lives without the fanfare we would all expect. The sadness is cleansed by Marsan’s portrayal of May’s sheer determination to see these people celebrated, even when his approach is demeaned as time-wasting and expensive by the bureaucrats.

The film is about very ordinary, some might say depressing, subjects but it elevates that subject matter to the prominence that it should have. Here the discussion is delicately handled and the structure of the film, written, directed and produced by Uberto Pasolini, as May goes on his travels searching for and talking to the friends and relatives (Joanne Froggatt) of his neighbour, allows for scrutiny of the fact that while some people may live, and die, alone that does not mean they are lonely. Carol Morley’s interest in telling Joyce Vincent’s story in Dreams of a Life (2011) is testament to the amount of interest in getting to the bottom of why and how people can become so quickly isolated.

Still Life celebrates both life and death; the lives and deaths of these people through the eyes of May and his own life, suddenly entering a new phase at the age of 44. The ending has an extremely un-British flavour, the flavour of unbridled emotion, and will surprise anyone who thinks they know what is coming.

Extras: Interviews with Marsan, Froggatt and writer director Uberto Pasolini.

Maryann has awarded Still Life on DVD four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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