By Glenn Dunks
July 22, 2014
The life of a man with what could surely be described as one of the most depressing jobs in England is examined with fine precision in Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life. The subject matter may appear overly dour for the man who was Oscar-nominated for producing feel-good comedy The Full Monty, but its unassuming balance of the touching and melancholy is rather enchanting. Pasolini’s film about death, memories, and our innate desire to not be forgotten by the ones we love may just sneak up on audiences looking to be charmed and moved.
John May (Eddie Marsan) works for a British council attempting to locate next of kin for people who died unacknowledged; as in, without seemingly anybody caring. Somewhat avoiding the modern advances of technology, John personally sees to everything, including planning funerals and cremations when nobody can be located, while writing eulogies for the priest to read to an empty church hall. Fired from his job, his life potentially changes for the better when he meets Kelly Stoke (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) and begins to re-evaluate his own existence in the process.
Given the focus on death, the potential was there for something unpalatable and miserable, though despite the grey, overcast colour palate and reserved, muted atmosphere, something poignant emerges. Certainly, as far as movies about British council estates go, this one isn’t as bleak as Fish Tank or Harry Brown. It’s not a comedy of the uproarious kind, yet its wry observations keep the tone light on its feet, while the relationship between Marsan’s John and Froggatt’s Kelly is sweet and allows for Pasolini to observe the nature of loneliness across generations, which many audiences will likely find hits close to home.
Ultimately Still Life is actually quite celebratory towards life. It asks audiences to assess the validity of what they do and turns the character of John from one of sorrowful pity to one of genuine warmth and tenderness. The idea of somebody, somewhere being affected by what we do (even if what we think we do is unappreciated) shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s far from glamorous, but Still Life is ultimately a humble piece of heartwarming fare.
Still Life arrives in Australian cinemas July 24, 2014.