January 27, 2023

Venice Film Festival Review – Still Life – No weddings and ten funerals

If you died tomorrow who would come to your funeral? If you’re like me it’s not a question to which you’ve given much thought. I haven’t made a seating plan for the church, or even made a list of names. Invitations aren’t really the way to go, so how do you get the crowds in? I’m guessing my family would feel obliged to turn up, and of course the vicar gets paid to attend, but after that who knows? Should I go out and make friends with the sort of people who’ll go to a funeral? How can you tell who’d be keen?

My lack of funereal planning has come into focus thanks to another Venice Film Festival movie about a man dealing daily with the dead. For once though he’s not a serial killer. John May works for the Kennington council in London, in a department that arranges funerals for those who die without family. I wonder if there really is such a department, but then I suppose funerals don’t arrange themselves. Played by Eddie Marsan, May is a conscientious and scrupulously correct employee. Part of my brain wants to write that he is Pooteresque, even though the rest of it isn’t really sure what Pooteresque means.

[Excuse me whilst I check Google]

Right, I’m glad I didn’t use it as it’s not really a fair description. The hero of this film is just very serious about his job, as he has nothing else in his life. To fulfil his job description he only needs to arrange the cremations, but he finds out about the people who have died and tries to trace their next of kin. Usually this is unsuccessful and he is the only person to attend their funerals.

May’s behaviour is not all positive. He also writes eulogies based on the objects he finds in the people’s houses. But Marsan’s portrayal stops the character being creepy and keeps the audience’s sympathy, even when he is wasting time travelling the country following leads for twenty year old addresses he has gleaned from government records. May has become completely defined by what he does. Of course he is becoming his own client, his life leaving him with little contact with anyone and no obvious next of kin.

Directed by Uberto Pasolini and shot in muted colours this is a film that has found a new way to shoot an investigation without having a standard detective character. The very final shot was probably debated at length, and I think the don’t put it in side should have won. Nevertheless by the end we have realised that all the incidental, seemingly pointless things of which life consists may actually have a reason. Then again we can misplace our own energies and end up exactly like the people we have been trying to help.

On a happier note, I’m writing this on the Venetian Lido beach, the sun shining and a cooling breeze blowing off the sea. It’s enough to make you think that surely death doesn’t really exist. Isn’t life all ice cream and warm seas and wishing you’d brought your trunks? Death won’t happen to me. Anyway, I quite fancy eternity in Heaven. See you there?

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