Still Life Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

John May (Eddie Marsan) is a lonely, quiet and unremarkable resident of the London Borough of Kennington. He is the same “little man on a mercilessly small Earth, with little service and a very small portfolio,” as in a poem by Robert Rozhdestvensky. His life is not diverse: he acts according to a once and for all ritual, every day he puts on the same suit, takes the same briefcase with him and goes to work in the city administration building.

Mr. May takes care of dead lonely people who have no one to even bury. John tries to find some relatives of these people by conducting his own investigations, and if the relatives are never found, then May, at the expense of the city administration, arranges for them to be buried according to the appropriate religious rite, which religion the deceased adhered to, and Mr. May himself considers it his duty not only to be present at the corresponding service, but he also tries, according to the established tradition, to say the last word, in which he somehow reconstructs the life of the departed according to the things found from him (or her).

John also enjoys collecting photographs of those people for whom he organized the funeral. And looking at the album with these photos entertains and consoles him: he understands that his existence in this life is justified, if only by the fact that he gave these people a decent funeral.

At some point, a new leadership comes to the city administration, which begins to optimize costs and suddenly finds out that some part of the funding is being spent by some unknown official on organizing expensive funerals for people who no one cares about, even their relatives. And May was told that his position was being cut. Before his dismissal, he has one last thing left to do: find relatives and friends of the deceased lonely alcoholic William Stock, in order to finally organize at least a decent funeral for him. And John is given to this business with all fervor.

***

Very intimate auteur film by Italian director Uberto Pasolini, filmed in English with British actors, financed by small independent studios. The film was released in 2013, I didn’t hear anything about it then and skipped it, but decided to watch the film after I was recommended by people whose opinion I really trust (and they never let me down).

The main role in the film was played by British actor Eddie Marsan – the master of the episode, who played small roles in many famous films. The actor himself has a rather ordinary appearance and is the best suited for the role of such a person-function, which is John May in the picture – a man leading a very measured and very boring – at least it is seen from the outside – existence.

However, John May is really very passionate about his work: studying the life of a deceased person, searching for his relatives, organizing a funeral, and this is where he sees his calling. It would seem that he should perceive his dismissal as a personal tragedy, but John does not demonstrate this in any way: rather, he simply perceives this as an occasion to complete the case of his last client as best as possible.

Eddie Marsan (and let’s pay tribute to the director Uberto Pasolini, because this is also his merit) in this role works just some miracles. He does not make any attempts to somehow please the audience and arouse some kind of sympathy: yes, he is lonely, but he behaves like a robot outside of work, his life is built according to a monotonous and rather dull routine. At the same time, he does not look quite so unhappy: there do not seem to be any tragedies in his life, and we don’t know why he is lonely: perhaps some existing relatives simply do not feel like communicating with such a boring person.

However, how John May transforms when he does his work. No, outwardly, this is still the same boring and unremarkable little man in the same suit, but his organization of funerals for lonely people is already genuine creativity, and this character is revealed in this, and he knows that no one will appreciate, except perhaps for the deceased, who no longer feels anything and will not be able to evaluate.

Despite the fact that it talks about quite sad and depressing things – loneliness, family grievances, death and funeral arrangements – the film is somehow very bright and even optimistic. A very good mood is created by this inconspicuous employee of the city administration, who so ingeniously constructs a farewell speech on the things found in the deceased (there is one very curious episode connected with this), and who with such ardor begins to do his last business: he must find relatives and friends of William Stock, who, apparently, has lived a very busy life, he should give Stock a real funeral – and he will do it.

Why did John May manage to persuade Stock’s relatives, who are very offended by him, and his old friends to come to the funeral? Yes, because John May in the picture has the strongest gift of persuasion, and the gift of persuasion is not generally accepted when a person knows how to charm and charm other people, forcing them to do what he asks of them, but with a completely different gift: he disarms people with his utter lack of assertiveness and non-aggressiveness, he simply asks them to do it – and they cannot refuse a person who is so inconspicuous, vulnerable and vulnerable.

This is the highest class, it is absolutely wonderfully played, and after this film I began to look at the actor Eddie Marsan with completely different eyes. Because a spectacular appearance, vivid emotions, explosive feelings and all that is one thing, but try to create such a capacious, interesting, defiant and obvious sympathy, and unconditional respect image – it’s very, very difficult, and Eddie Marsan did it just fine, acting on a minimum of emotions.

The picture is very atmospheric and very moody, so to speak, although there seems to be no such adjective in United Statesn at all. From the point of view of staging and camera work – some shots here are very interestingly made and even slightly reminiscent of “You, the Living” by the Swedish director Roy Andersson, although, of course, to his level of building frame design (he is a perfectionist and the same “You, the Living” filmed for four years) in my memory no one got there at all. But here, too, there are many shots of interesting, well-composed and well-remembered.

Very good film, I liked it very much, I’m very glad that I didn’t miss it. Yes, this is a pure author’s cinema, this is clearly not a movie for everyone. But from auteur cinema, this is more than a worthy option, so if you are interested in this, don’t miss it.

Yes, this film has four prizes at the Venice Film Festival, the New Horizons Black Pearl Prize at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the Best Film Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Reykjavik Film Festival, a nomination for the David di Donatello Award for Best European movie, Best British Actor (Eddie Marsan) and a nomination for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival, but I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing this movie.

PS The film can be found in torrents, but soon it will be possible to watch it legally with United Statesn subtitles on my film channel on this site, where the pictures of one streaming service with which I am starting to cooperate will be broadcast. On this channel, those independent author’s films that are not found on major services and that interested me will be presented for legal viewing, and this channel will provide them for viewing.

PPS Somewhere this film appears under the name “Still Life”. This is just a translation of the name Still Life, which also means “still life” (dead nature). But “Stopped Life” in this case, in my opinion, is a more correct translation of the title, given the context of the film.

Stopped Life / Still Life review

Director: Uberto Pasolini Cast: Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Karen Drury, Andrew Buchan, Neal D’Souza, David Shaw Parker, Michael Elkin, Ciarán McIntyre, Tim Potter, Paul Anderson

Drama, UK-Italy, 2013, 87 min.

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