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Rich humanity uncovered in the ordinary

STILL LIFE: Starring Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Karen Drury, Andrew Buchan. Directed by Uberto Pasolini. 92 minutes. Rated M (Coarse language and themes)

By Donata Morelli

JOHN May is one of those grey men who walk the edge of our perception, on which our gaze would unlikely linger.

His solitary and repetitive life is marked by almost obsessive daily rituals, which have a sense of normality for him.

John May has a very special job: he is a municipality officer in charge of tracing the relatives of people who have died in solitude and asking if they want to or can attend the funeral.

He is extraordinarily methodic and meticulous; nothing is taken for granted, even the action of crossing a road has its own ritual.

When a new case opens and the investigation brings no sign of any family members or friends, John is the one that writes their eulogies based on the pictures and objects he finds in their empty homes and chooses the music that seems most suitable for the deceased.

He knows how important it is that each of these lonely men and women has a dignified farewell, because no life is worthless.

Eddie Marsan in Still Life.

Eddie Marsan in Still Life.

Although stuck in his own routines, John May has the potential to embrace a new life turn.

And this happens when he faces his last case before being made redundant.

He opens up to the world, starting with the search of human traces left by his alcoholic neighbour.

However, in his tragic and unfinished life, his neighbour has succeeded to make a difference in other people’s lives, proving that behind even the most anonymous and desperate lives can be hidden traces of extraordinary humanity.

And then, looking from his home window, John realises that he is watching a mirrored scenario: imminent future and present looking at each other, and this gives him the spark to finally start to play the game of life. 

Uberto Pasolini, a successful banker who transitioned into the movie world 30 years ago, engages the viewers using a low voice, rigorous and minimalist but never painful or boring, thanks to the sense of humour that peeks into some compelling moments, and thanks to lead actor Eddie Marsan.

With a blink of an eye, a smile that appears for a moment, a furtive glance, he communicates in a touching way the metamorphosis of the caterpillar as it prepares to become a butterfly

Still Life is not a happy or conciliatory movie but, in its own way and through its characters, it expresses an underlying optimism.

Surely it is able to stay with the audience after the viewing, as a coherent expression of a curious and sensitive director who really cares to dig into the lives of those who try but do not make it, suffer and fail on their own – something our films often forget.

Donata Morelli is a member of The Catholic Leader staff.

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