Still Life (2013) – A poignant tribute to a good-natured loner

Someone tells John May, the glum-looking but good-natured London council employee played by Eddie Marsan, that he’s got a strange job, at a certain point in the film. We agree because we’ve been thinking the same thing since the film began. The job – a rather thankless one at that – entails him finding the next-of-kin of recently deceased individuals and informing them of their demise. A majority of these people are loners who were rejected by their children and relatives and led a heartbreakingly painful and solitary existence.

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You feel a bit overwhelmed with sadness when you see John going through the belongings of a deceased old woman to find out if she had any children and coming across a greeting card apparently sent to her by her daughter, only to find out a minute later that it was written and signed by her cat. I think now you get the picture. That’s not all what makes up John’s job description. He has to prepare their eulogies and make proper arrangements for their funerals (make-believe ones just as how some of them lived their lives) and burial. No one comes to the funeral of course, except John and the priest. He doesn’t have to, but he is so dedicated and caring that he makes it a point to attend each one. We get a clear picture of John’s life in the subsequent scenes.

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We see that he is a clean, well-organized and methodical person, the kind of person who ensures that no scraps of food are left on the table that he just dined on. He is just as lonely as some of the deceased. You could say that he spends more time with the dead than he does with the living. All that is about to change when he is fired and meets the daughter (played by Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) of a drunk old man who had passed away recently. John is determined to close this last case before he leaves. Viewers expecting a cliché ending might be in for a shock. Without giving away anything, I’ll just say (warn, actually) that I wasn’t quite unprepared for the ending. I found it to be a bit of a bummer initially. I did predict it though but I wasn’t expecting it to be presented the way it was here. It’s not the kind of ending that you’ll have a really hard time accepting if you are currently going through a tough phase in your life.

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However, I could see what the director was trying to do and it took me a while to accept it. It’s one of those endings that will make you reconsider your life and make you ask, “What the fuck am I really doing with my life?” I would love to hear what others thought of it. But, that doesn’t mean the film is not watchable (I wouldn’t be writing about it otherwise) and if there is one really good reason for recommending this film, it’s Eddie Marsan outstanding performance. He is one of those actors that, you can guess what he is thinking by looking at his face. And there is a good chance you must be thinking exactly what he is thinking at the same time. You can sense a perfect synchronization going on here. The film is directed by Uberto Pasolini, a nephew of legendary Italian director Luschino Visconti.

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