Restoring humanity in death

Eddie Marsan in Still Life

Eddie Marsan in Still Life

MOVIE  l  Still Life  l  M

Review by Penny Mulvey

Still Life is a deeply moving, gentle movie that focuses on the very special job of Kennington Borough Council client services officer John May (Eddie Marsan).

Mr May, a quiet, fastidious and respectful man, is responsible for providing due care for people who die alone in the borough. Most of the people who end up in his jurisdiction appear to have lost contact with family and friends, and some are not found until some days after they die.

Marsan provides an outstanding performance as the contained and deeply humane Mr May. Like many of the people he meets in his council role, he too lives alone, eating the same meal of a piece of toast, a tin of tuna and an apple every night.

In his day job, he forensically tracks down potential relatives of the departed, holding on to the ashes as long as possible in case absent loved ones will claim their remains.  He writes eulogies based on the scraps of information he gleans from the now empty homes of the dead, selecting music from their collection which he believes might capture the individual’s preferences.

And then, unexpectedly, the council undergoes a cost cutting exercise, and the client services department is not seen as providing value. In fact the council is paying for too many unnecessary funerals rather than merely cremating these departed souls.

Mr May has one last case – Billy Stoke – a 63 year old man who lived in the flat opposite him. Perhaps it was that this man had died in such close proximity without him even noticing him, but Mr May becomes driven in his efforts to track down relatives and friends of the departed Mr Stoke.

A British film by Italian director Uberto Pasolini, Still Life reminds the audience that every human being has value, no matter how or where they die. As we watch Mr May tenderly and carefully stick hinges on photos of the recently departed and place them in a crammed photo album kept on its own table in his flat, we catch a glimpse of the former lives and memories of these dead and abandoned people.

Mr May is a remarkable man cloaked in a very ordinary unassuming life.  Pasolini crafts a story that honours old fashioned values such as respect, care and kindness.  It is both a window into the minutiae of one person’s life and into the whole of life. This is a shocking and beautiful film.

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