John May (played by the ever-excellent Eddie Marsan) is the man at the centre of this gentle meditation on life (and death) from Italian director Uberto Pasolini. John’s existence revolves around his job, which is to arrange funerals for people without friends or family. He painstakingly picks out details from a person’s life – a red necklace, (many) photos of their beloved cat – to create a funeral that gives them a proper send-off. John is let go however, which leads to a sweet if rather meandering journey as John throws everything into his last case and goes out of his way to find one man’s friends and family.
Eddie Marsan’s performance is low-key and sympathetic, much like the film itself. Quiet and unassuming, nonetheless, you can always see the cogs turning: Marsan’s performance is by far the highlight of the film. It’s especially impressive when considering that to be brutally honest, he doesn’t have much to work with. John is a nice man. But that’s all he really is. There’s very little complexity to the character, which proves a problem as all the other characters are largely pushed aside to focus on our protagonist. As a result, the other characters are rather one-note and forgettable.
That’s not to say that Still Life isn’t without its charm. It has moments of tenderness and emotion, and successfully relays the pervading loneliness and relative emptiness of John’s existence. But unfortunately, the film often oversteps the line from sweet to cloyingly sentimental, and delivers characters and plot that are bland and underdeveloped.
Final thoughts: Marsan’s performance is a stand-out in a film that, though often sweet, struggles to leave any lasting impression.