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Still Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
06 02 2015

ImageDirected by Uberto Pasolini

Eddie Marsan is arguably one of the best film character actors in the UK, and I was a great fan of director Uberto Pasolini's 2009 film MACHAN, an energetic imagined account of the actual exploits of the bogus Sri Lankan National Handball Team that managed to be simultaneously funny and socially sympathetic and challenging, an unsentimental downbeat Slumdog. So what's gone wrong here?

Eddie Marsan plays John May, a council employee whose job it is to search for the relatives of and arrange funerals for those who have died alone and friendless. Old fashioned, meticulous, respectful, as plain and tentative as his name, he lives a solitary friendless existence, devoting himself to his caseload and often the only mourner at their funerals, for which he selects the music and flowers. When his job is swallowed up in rationalisation, he becomes determined to solve his last remaining case, whose subject he soon recognises as a kind of echo of himself. In the process, he ‘discovers life'.

It begins promisingly enough, but even in Marsan's hands the part soon teeters on the edge of caricature, from his 50s suit and his defeated body language (a metaphorical ‘Kick me, Life' sign round his neck) to his bleakly tidy flat and dull eating and drinking habits, when buying a hot chocolate instead of a coffee is meant to indicate walking on the wild side. (And surely no-one regularly eats an evening meal comprising a whole tin of cold tuna up-ended over a slice of toast?) I'm afraid I soon just didn't believe in this character, nor in the sad drunk whose life he is unearthing, who turns out to have had - who'd have thought it? - an existence like any other's with loves and friends, feelings and expectations. Our hero shuffles around the country trying to piece together the wreckage of the dead man's existence, meeting stock characters - the nice normal woman he once loved, his roguish down-and-out drinking mates, and his actual remaining relative (Joanne Froggatt of Downton fame) who turns up working in a dog's refuge. She's so nice to poorly puppies... could there be hope here for Mr May?

For a rather hackneyed tale it's all moving along not too badly, more thanks to Marsan's meticulous performance than any originality (though he deserves so much better in a role). But towards the end its creeping sentimentality becomes positively mawkish, as tragic coincidence piles on maudlin whimsy. Unlikely hopes are raised only to be dashed, and by the final scene, inside you're screaming - no, please, stop right there! - but like a Hardy plot reworked for People's Friend, it runs its course and ruins all its promising beginnings and good intentions. I saw this film at a foreign festival last year, where it was not without admirers - It will be interesting to see how it is received on general distribution here.

Seen at Transilvania Film Festival, Cluj, June 2014

Kick me!!

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