Stillness. I love the stillness, the quietude that enhances my life these days. I’ve found it by the river under Dromedary; I’ve found it with two canines overlooking Anderson Bay. It is something I used to crave during my teaching days.

Music has shaped my world for so long now and once my life was full of it. These days not so much. Back in the day, if a choice occurred between stillness and my latest CD, the latter won out – so there was little place for the former. In my working life there wasn’t time for both of them – but now there is.

And in John May’s life stillness dominates. My stillness, in no way, compares with his. His world is all quiet, hushed, anally still, buttoned-up, beige, constricted. He’s made it small and narrow. It is devoid of colour – and the people he has most affinity with are even stiller than he. They’re so still that, in fact, they’ve ceased to exist. May is the council’s cleaner-uperer of unclaimed, unloved decreased persons. He does right by them – attempting to track down any remaining relatives – if he’s successful he largely finds them an unfeeling, unsympathetic lot. They rarely want to get involved in any funeral arrangements, leaving it up to John May. And he does right by his individual corpses, giving them something tailored to what he has gleaned about them. He takes pride in his work. It is his life. He keeps a scrapbook of his clients – all those stories, but in the end there was no love, except what John May had to give. He has a music collection devoted to including just the right song for each for sending off. He does his best.


Of course he is defeated by his own humanity, The bean-counters decide it all costs too much – in time and money. Efficiency is afoot and John May is soon to be out of a job. He is deigned one last case as a send-off. In our world of streamlining and consolidation there is no room for someone tied to the past, to the ways it has always been done. There’s no room for a man such as John May.

Enter his last still, Billy Stoke. John May is going to take his time fleshing out the bones of this one’s life tale, this last person entrusted to his care for the last rites. John May embarks on a journey tracking down his family members in person, rather than on the blower. John now begins his revolt. He encounters Billy’s people – people that will change John May’s life, albeit briefly. As they bring colour to his world, so the screen gradually becomes infused with brighter hues as John May unbuttons himself and leaves himself open to possibilities. Gone are his dowdy suit and tie. Leading the colour charge is Kelly Stoke – a luminous Joanne Froggatt from ‘Downton Abbey’ fame. A tentative bond between the two develops – there is hope of a less still existence for John May.


Be prepared – the end of the movie is devastating, but joyous at the same time. I had difficulty coping with what happened, but the guy a few seats a way was an absolute mess because of it. Bring tissues. And my goodness – the ghosts. The ghosts were magnificent.

Marsan, in a role perfectly fitted to his features, is so still – it’s almost heartbreaking. He is sublime in this. His is a face we all know – those many of us who watch quality British product – but with this movie we’ll forever be able to put his name to that face. He’s done quality work in the past – ‘Ray Donovan’, ‘Happy Go Lucky’ and ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ – but this, undoubtedly, will be his signature role.

‘Still Life’ is a movie that will linger in the consciousness. It is an exquisite piece, worthy of its long list of gongs already garnered. It deserves even the highest. Its sensitivity, attention to the detail of human nuance are a credit to director, Umberto Pasolini – best known, prior to this, for the glorious ‘The Full Monty’. For capturing the stillness of one man’s life, hopefully this will now be thought of as well when his name is mentioned. It is a masterpiece. It received a ten minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. I loved it to bits. Simply wonderful.

Still Life Official Site =




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