Meticulous and organized to the point of obsession, London bachelor John May (Eddie Marsan) is a specialist council worker charged with finding the next of kin of those who have died without next of kin or friends nearby. When his department is downsized, John must intensify his efforts on his final case, taking him on a liberating journey that allows him to start living life freely at last.
Review by Louise Keller:
The opening scene shows a priest, a coffin and Eddie Marsan's John May, the borough council worker who brings humanity to the recently deceased - who are alone and friendless at the end of their lives. Uberto Pasolini, who produced The Full Monty, has created a wonderfully economical film with vibrant splashes of humour and understatement and whose cinematic style depicts a revealing and moving portrait of a man who lives his solitary life among ghosts. Like Aki Kaurismaki's films Man Without a Past and Le Havre, Pasolini tells his story with imagery and minimal dialogue and as a result, there is a stillness to which we are drawn, like a powerful magnet.
There is something extremely moving as the priest reads out the eulogy to an empty church, with only John May as witness. But this is no template used by the man whose job it is to search for relatives and friends of those who have passed away. Each funeral is individually tailored and a labour of love by John May, who becomes involved in the lives of all the souls whose cases appear on his desk.
Marsan delivers an exemplary performance as John May, who we understand straight away is meticulous and fastidious in everything he does. We know this by the way he pulls out his chair at work, switches on his computer, opens his files, places photos of his deceased clients in an envelope and sets about to find some leads so they do not leave this world alone. The way he peels an apple (cutting the peel in one long circular piece) shows he is patient. He looks both ways even when the traffic light is green and life at home is a solitary tin of tuna, unceremoniously turned upside down on an empty plate and a lovingly kept photo album into which he carefully places photos of all of the friendless souls he has farewelled.
Pasolini tells the story through imagery as John May does his painstaking detective work for each client. First he examines the clues that make each of them a real person: an imprint on a pillow, letters, underpants drying on a heater and empty alcohol bottles on the shelf. As he prods and investigates, he becomes involved in each of his cases, none more so than his last case, taking him to a food processing factory, an animal shelter, a fish and chip shop and in the company of a Falklands soldier and two homeless men. Surprisingly, it is with the homeless men and a bottle of whisky that John May makes some important decisions. Nothing is articulated but everything is implied.
The colours and textures of the human experience are nicely captured by Rachel Portman's expressive music score and whose distinctive intervals bring a beauty that is a combination of melancholy and the sublime. The emotional wallop at the film's end is an unexpected bonus in what is a pearl of a cinematic experience.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Still Life is one of those films in which how it's done is more important than what is done, more about character than story, although story there is, too. Eddie Marsan is perfectly cast as John May, a name subtle in its connotations of a nonentity with a reserved withdrawn personality. But the beauty of Uberto Pasolini's screenplay and direction is that this apparent nonentity assumes heroic proportions not for the obvious outward heroics, but for the inner and quiet humanity that drives him.
Not that you'd guess, from his quiet, sparse office and quiet, sparse flat, where he regularly dines on tinned tuna and toast. At work, he sees dead people ... who have died alone and abandoned, who need a funeral, who need some attend that funeral, and perhaps care about how they are coffined, buried, cremated ...Mr May is that man, alone in life, but crowded with the photos and trinkets of the dead. It's quite a stunning juxtaposition.
Pasolini builds his character and his context with elaborate detail and deliberate restraint, which has its payoff in the complexity and richness of the character and the circumstances. It's not a film for the instant, just add water, take-away set. The rewards include Lisa Hall's meticulous production design plus a haunting but suitably restrained and melancholy score from Rachel Portman, a wonderfully evocative performance by Joanne Froggatt, and a gloriously conceived (and executed) magic realist ending.
Simple but not simplistic, Still Life is a unique contribution to British cinema, with its English restraint and eccentricity all celebrated in one rolled up human being.
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STILL LIFE (M)
CAST: Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Karen Drury, Andrew Buchan, Neil D'Souza, David Shaw Parker,
PRODUCER: Christopher Simon, Felix Vossen
DIRECTOR: Uberto Pasolini
SCRIPT: Uberto Pasolini
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stefano Falivene
EDITOR: Gavin Buckley, Tracy Granger
MUSIC: Rachel Portman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lisa Hall
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 24, 2014