Still Life

Director: Uberto Pasolini (2015)

With plenty to say about the current state of Britain this contemplative drama is a graceful reflection on the importance of honouring the dead.

John May (Eddie Marsan) is a middle-aged, mac-wearing local civil servant.

He’s responsible for contacting relatives of the recently deceased, if none can be found he must organise the disposal of the bodies.

Dedicated, meticulous and compelled to give his clients as much dignity as possible, he draws on their belongings to write eulogies, choose appropriate music and opts for expensive church services rather than cheaper cremations.

Working from a prodigiously neat basement office and living in an equally grey and organised flat, John has a quiet and unassuming life with no friends, family or social life.

Though never complaining being over-involved in his job is a clearly a coping mechanism for his loneliness.

When John recieves his notice at the council from the unctuous Mr Pratchett (Andrew Buchan) he is determined to successfully close his last case but has only three days in which to do so.

Unknown to each other Billy Stoke lived on John’s anonymous housing estate in the flat opposite, suffereing a sad, lonely and alcoholic demise.

Well-honed detective techniques sees John travel the country by road and rail, meeting family and former colleagues, trying to find Stoke’s daughter Kelly (Joanne Froggatt).

The Italian writer-director turns a coldly critical eye on contemporary Britain, seeing a land of abandoned ex-servicemen and uncaring institutions.

Among the alienation, homelessness and terrible food, we love our dogs, hate our families and neglect the elderly.

Cinematographer Stefano Falivene makes a virtue of stillness, capturing an urban landscape with a harsh, eerie beauty and adding to John’s keenly observed sense of isolation.

There are subtle suggestions John could be a modern day version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a good man keeping true to his personal code of honour.

Or possibly he’s a non-denominational celestial do-gooder trying to save the world one funeral at a time.

Marsan carries the film with maximum economy, conveying a variety of moods with tiny changes of expression while Downton star and Golden Globe winner Froggatt is as engaging and excellent as ever – but it would be nice to see her having on-screen fun in a glamorous role for a change.

For a moment the script seems to lurch towards a conventional conclusion instead it supplies a sweetly haunting and gently optimistic ending.

☆☆

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