Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Uncovering extraordinary spirit in an ordinary community."

The average cost of a funeral in Australia is $7,000 (£3,600) - a lot of money to shell out at a point when finances are often under strain, especially if the person who died was the breadwinner. What's more, costs can go a lot higher than that, and the deal is usually made when people are feeling confused, vulnerable and under pressure to do the right thing. With the same big company owning almost all the major funeral services in the country, it's all the more difficult for bereaved people to exert and control. But one small community group in Port Kembla, Wollongong, has come up with a solution - it wants to start a charitable funeral service of its own.

"We won't be embalming people or anything!" the women insist in an early meeting, trying to explain their intentions and reassure local officials that they don't intend to turn the community centre into a morgue. The group is predominantly made up of women, middle aged, respectably dressed and not willing to take any shit from anybody. They've done their research. They've sourced compact cardboard coffins for just $130 (£68) each. They're trying to find some land that they can get permission to turn into a natural cemetery, where trees can be planted on graves. They're also trying to get more people talking about death and dying so that those left behind will know what the deceased person wanted and, where possible, plans can be made in advance. But when their own caretaker is diagnosed with terminal cancer, everything suddenly feels closer to home, and their brusque practicality is complicated by a personal sense of grief.

Copy picture

This intimate documentary invites viewers to take a fresh look at the funeral business and perhaps think about their own arrangements, at the same time as uncovering extraordinary spirit in an ordinary community. Other social issues are also touched on - for instance, the fact that whilst Christian and Islamic practices are respected, it's very difficult for Aboriginal Australians to deal with their dead in the traditional way. Broadening the appeal of the film, there's a melodic soundtrack by Nick Cave who has, of course, mused extensively about his own funeral arrangements, and not without humour. The humour within the community group is clearly what keeps it strong, and its champions, like so many of Cave's characters, are little people whose uniqueness emerges only through their confrontation with society's great taboos.

Though necessarily simple and constrained in its ambition, this is a thoughtful little film that will strike a chord with many who see it.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2015
Share this with others on...
A close-knit community in Australia start up a not-for-profit funeral service.

Director: Lynette Wallworth

Writer: Lynette Wallworth

Year: 2013

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: Australia

Search database: