Starring: Eddie Marson, Joanne Froggatt, Karen Drury
John May (Marson) is a council worker whose job it is to find next of kin of those who have died alone. He is very meticulous at his job, but also lives an isolated life with a routine that is almost obsessional. After learning that he has lost his job due to local cut backs and his current case will be his last, John takes a particular interest in the case which leads to a life changing experience.
Surely one of the most underrated and extremely diverse British actors working at the moment has to be Eddie Marson; as the protagonist John in Still Life he gives a performance at the understated end of his he range, but yet still delivers with a completely nuanced and emotionally engaging performances that expresses so many emotions in simple body language and facial expressions. Marson’s performance is very much the centrepiece of a superb and emotionally engaging drama, with this understated performance fitting in perfectly with the gentle and sombre tone of the film. John lives a minimalistic life of routine and simplicity. He May not show his emotions, but the narrative and Marson’s superb performance allow us to know there is far more to him than that, and he wants what the rest of us want in life.
Lonely council workers who search for the next of kin of those who have died alone may not be the main characters of big budget blockbusters, but Uberto Pasolini uses what is on the surface a simplistic story to produce what is not only a deeply engaging central narrative, but it also explores much broader and relatable themes about human nature such as loneliness, mortality, isolation and the importance of family and to have someone to be close to and care for.
For me the best and most effective character driven narratives examine their central themes with intelligent subtlety, and Still Life does exactly this. The relatable nature of the themes the narrative explores mean that the viewer’s own unique experiences of these themes in their own lives can help to further shape the viewing experience, and for me that makes the film even more involving.
Despite being only 92 minutes, the pace of the narrative is deliberately slow, but this only enhances our emotional engagement with both the protagonist’s journey and the narrative’s themes. There are many individual scenes that in isolation may seem pointless, but when looked at as a collective whole they help us understand and engage with the life the protagonist leads and come to understand him. Likewise the static camerawork and supposedly simple shots that could perhaps when described in this way make Still Life sound cheap and like a TV drama, they are actually intentionally this way and provide an apt stylistic complement to the narrative. While Stefano Falivene’s cinematography that consists of quite sombre shades further enhances the poignancy and sombre feel of the film.
What essentially makes John so engaging is that it is very easy to relate to him, and though it is never sign posted what he is actually thinking and what he wants in life, Still Life is a film that respects the audience’s intelligence and ability to grasp concepts and themes. Marson’s wonderfully understated performance and John’s actions speak a thousand words of clunky exposition, and this makes both the protagonists journey and the overall narrative so engaging and profoundly moving.
As John embarks on his last case and gets increasingly involved there is always the risk that the narrative could descend into cliché, especially when he meets the deceased’s estranged daughter (Joanna Froggatt), but Pasolini skilfully avoids such things to create an ending that is both profoundly moving and deeply haunting.
An intelligently written and very well acted drama; Still Life is a subtle but deeply effective examination of some very profound and relatable themes that will haunt the viewer for long after it has finished.