4 stars
Imagine you live alone. You're estranged from family, loved ones and your neighbours. Perhaps they're not intrusive, or perhaps they simply don't care. And then you die. Days, possibly weeks later, someone finds the body and starts piecing together the story of your life. That person hopes to find your next of kin, or some one who cares enough to turn up at your funeral. That person works for the council, and his name is John May.
This is the premise of Uberto Pasolini's amazingly tender, London based drama. The quiet, unassuming May lives a very precise life. He is dedicated to his work which he performs alone, returning daily to a soulless apartment block in which he lives, alone. More often than not, he's the only person attending the funerals he arranges (at council expense) for his clients. When austerity measures see that May's department of one is consolidated to zero, he negotiates to conclude his last case. On his own.

Pasolini's theme is clearly laid out, but it's not applied with the trowel you might expect of the subject matter. Everything about Still Life is delicately carried out. He composes each frame with a very precise, measured style that evokes Aki Kurismaki, though without that iconic director's knowing wink. Pasolini's approach is bleaker, yet remains strangely hopeful and surprisingly touching.

But the film would be nothing without the sublime central performance of Eddie Marsan (Filth). He is simply extraordinary. He imbues May with a delicate, buttoned down composure that reflects a fundamental understanding of the importance of his work. Consequently May is the only one with the patience and compassion to do what no one else seems willing or interested in doing: bringing dignity to death. As he did with Happy Go Lucky's Scott, Marsan has created another unforgettable character.

May's final case gives him a shot at a life beyond council as he tracks down lost family and friends of a rogue called Billy. The man's daughter (Downton Abbey's Kelly Froggatt) offers May some unexpected solace before life intervenes with cruel humour. Although final scenes over step the mark for some tastes, it gives May's story a tremendous poignancy. For a story about loneliness, sadness and death, Still Life is a surprisingly inspirational film. Uplifting in a counter-intuitive way. It is also disarmingly emotional, so go prepared.


Previewed at Sony Theatrette, Sydney on 4 April 2014

Eddie Marsan
Joanne Froggat
Andrew Buchan

Uberto Pasolini

Uberto Pasolini

UK / Italy


92 minutes

July 24, 2014
Still Life (2013) on IMDb