In our modern, insular society it has become more and more common that people die alone, with no one in their life to notice that they’re gone. This necessitates the job of trying to find a friend or relative of the deceased and to make funeral arrangements. ‘Still life‘ follows a man whose job is exactly that.
The film opens as John May, played by the sublime Eddie Marsan, wraps up a handful of cases as the only attendant of the respective funerals, the most common outcome following funerals with no one present. After starting a case for a person that lived adjacent to him, he’s informed that his position is being made redundant but, after some convincing, he’s given the go ahead to finish his final case.
Still Life is a masterclass of sober, human drama. We follow May through his regimented, carefully measured and repetitive day cycle. He’s socially isolated in his rigorous routine but due to the closeness of his last client to him he gets more involved in this ultimate case. He travels from town to town; desperately trying to track down people related to the lone drunk that he never knew. Through this he breaks out of his cycle and gradually comes out of his shell.
Marsan’s performance is amazingly refined. He’s somehow anonymous yet distinct at the same time. He embodies an immense deal of care, not only for his own well-being, which he loosens up to over the course of the film, but also for these tragic souls that had no one to take care of them in their deaths. He’s there for them, his clients chronicled in a thick photo album, when no one else is. It’s a beautiful sentiment that makes for a beautiful, quietly tragic film.
Marsan, who’s in every single scene, is often framed alone in shots, even in scenes where other people are present. It’s symbolic of his isolation that is gradually reversed as people begin to join him in frame. The somber mood of the reserved cinematography is elevated by the fantastic score from Rachel Portman, with the main melody being an emotional highlight.
Writer-Director Uberto Pasolini imbues the film with a lot of heart. Comedy and tragedy are closely intertwined and Pasolini seems to have a keen understanding of this, not overplaying either element but hitting the sweet spot for both elements. He leaves you feeling both sad and hopeful in equal measure, which is a feat for a film so closely dealing with death as its main subject matter. It reminds you that life is a fleeting yet beautiful thing and leads you to ponder your mortality, because really, who wants to leave with regrets?
‘Still Life’ is memorable and compelling down to its great direction and a wonderful performance by Eddie Marsan.