Still Life

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Eddie Marsan in Still Life
"Not still, but gently moving."

"If there's no one there, there's no one to care," declares council worker John May's boss. He represents the voice of "progress" in Uberto Pasolini's meditation on loss, loneliness and increasing alienation in the modern world. May, needless to say, disagrees, not least because he has spent his entire career sifting through the belongings of the forgotten in a bid to help the families who lost them in life to find a connection with them after death.

He works for the euphemistically named Client Services department - after all, none of us like to think of going into that good night, gently or otherwise. Most of his 'clients', may they RIP, have been found by caretakers, often after many weeks but May is old-fashioned and meticulous, referring to everyone as Mr or Mrs and quietly respectful of the dead, however long they've been that way. There isn't much outside of work, mind you, just evenings measured in tins of tuna and toast.

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When he finds his career is also about to meet its demise, we follow him on one last case - that of William "Billy" Stokes - as he goes on the trail armed with little more than a snooker club card and a handful of smiling photos of a young girl in a yellowing photo album. As he goes, he finds connections, not just for Stokes but himself.

Pasolini - nephew of The Leopard's Luchino Visconti - is best known as a producer (The Full Monty, Bel Ami), with just one other directing credit, comedy drama, Machan. There is humour here, too, and a lightness of touch but this is nevertheless a melancholy movie that mourns the passing of connections even if it does offer some hope.

Pasolini finds traces of lives once lived in unusual places, from a fingerprint swipe left in a tub of face cream to a photo of a cat. He also gives Eddie Marsan room to breathe and the actor delivers, creating a memorable character in May. Although a man of few and carefully chosen words, his intensity has a warmth and Marsan lets occasional smiles of hope flicker brightly. Matching the mood perfectly is the beautiful score from Rachel Portman (Pasolini's wife), which gently supports the emotion of the film through its lilting recurring theme without bullying a response from the viewer.

Pasonlini carefully probes at the streamlining of modern life, where there's no time to think about what's gone before, just a rush to get on and be done with it. Along the way he also considers how people can become disconnected from family yet unexpectedly attached to those who are not kin. The final act of the film is just a step too far, as having carefully worked at the drama and humanity of the piece there is a sudden gear change that strays towards tearduct manipulation territory. For the most part, however, this is not still, but gently moving.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2014
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A council worker looks for the next of kin of those found dead and alone.
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