Sometimes undergoing a drastic and traumatizing life-altering experience can be a true blessing in disguise. It isn’t until people have what others would consider to be a devastating moment for them to have an epiphany and realize they truly do have the courage to significantly improve their lives. That’s certainly the case with the quiet, detached and predictable protagonist in writer-director Uberto Pasolini’s new film, ‘Still Life,’ which played on Tuesday, March 11 at 9pm at the Regal South Beach Cinemas during the 31st Miami International Film Festival. The comedy fearlessly explored the uncharacteristic actions people would take after experiencing an unpredictable, life-changing moment that ultimately pushes them to take radical measures to beneficially expand their existences.
‘Still Life’ follows 44-year-old South London council employee John May (Eddie Marsan), who lives a monotonous life working for the government. His job involves locating the living relatives of people who recently died alone, so that they can get a proper burial. His life’s goal is to make sure all the people he’s assigned have proper funerals, including eulogies and music, even though he’s usually the only person who attends.
One day John receives the unexpected news from his boss that the local councils are downsizing and consolidating, so he will be laid off when they officially merge. The last case he receives is for an alcoholic man, Billy Stokes, who lived in the same apartment building as he does. Billy’s death leads John to begin asking existential questions about his purpose in life. Feeling as though he could relate to his aloof neighbor, the council worker sets out to find Billy’s family, and discovers he had an estranged daughter, Kelly (Joanne Froggatt). Their unexpected meeting infuses an unexpected, but welcomed, rejuvenation in their lives, and gives them both something to live for.
Pasolini penned a captivating exploration into the contentment people readily accept in their lives as they settle into a monotonous, predictable routine that doesn’t satisfyingly fulfill them. John is the perfect example of a worker who has become so efficient in his repetitious tasks that he convinces himself he doesn’t need to seek out any joyful, meaningful work to make him feel needed or appreciated.
But once he receives the devastating news from his manager that he’s about to be laid off after 22 years of dedicated duty, the monotone protagonist is suddenly and rightfully infused with a new sense of urgency that pushes him to finally do something truly beneficial. Not only does the council worker truthfully wants to memorialize a man who squandered his close relationships and job because it’s his last official case, but he also wants to prove that he genuinely cared for those who lost faith in themselves.
Marsan alluringly transformed the rigid, predictable John who always fell back on the safe course of action for most of his career into a daring risk-taker who suddenly wasn’t afraid to put his own reputation in jeopardy, in order to honor a man he didn’t know. The actor mustered up the courage he infused into John when his character bravely reached out to Kelly to console her during the difficult period of coping with her grief over a father she barely knew or remembered anymore.
Marsan and Froggatt built a natural on-screen chemistry between their two struggling characters, who were both contending with the absence of a close family they could rely on. John and Kelly suddenly appeared as though they not only gained confidence in themselves when they spent time together, but also in the world around them that cruelly take away their identities and sense of security. The two characters suddenly and rightfully saw hope in their next stages of life, even though their futures were unpredictable and unplanned.
The captivating, enticing comedy-drama realistically and humbly explored the elusive, understated journey of a modest, unpretentious man who happily and readily put others’ needs in front of his own. ‘Still Life’ is an endearing character study of a lonely man who doesn’t realize that his life can be more personally fulfilling and rewarding if he truly opens up and connects with people who are experiencing the same difficulties he is. Marsan enchantingly transformed John from a simplistic man who takes foreseeable, safe actions in his job and personal life, into a proactive, bold risk-taker who is now open to going after what he wants. While the film isn’t particularly flashy in its visual effects, Pasolini smartly crafted a relatable, true-to-life protagonist who finally embraces the fact that it’s time to expand his comfort zone and begin trusting other people.