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Still Life is a quiet but wonderful gem that audiences hopefully will discover in theaters or on demand.

In a world where people are noticed (and even celebrated) for their vices, it’s refreshing to see a film that presents a different kind of hero: a simple but good man who believes in human decency.

Simple and good, however, unfortunately too often go unnoticed. John May (brilliantly played by English character actor Eddie Marsan) is a mild-mannered British council worker. When someone in his area dies alone, John’s job is to track down a friend or family member who might be interested in the personal belongings or being involved with the funeral.

To some this might sound like the worst job ever, but John takes great pride and satisfaction in his work. While the city just wants to get on with disposing the bodies as efficiently as possible, John makes every effort to give the deceased a dignified send off.

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If no next of kin is found, or worse — the kin doesn’t want anything to do with the deceased — John organizes and attends the funeral by himself. He uses his free time to compose the eulogy, gathering clues found in the former living spaces. Extremely precise, he notices details and trinkets that other people would overlook, giving him insights about what the person was like. While most would mock or pity the lonely lady with cheap jewelry and photos of her cat in costume, John gives her dignity. In the eulogy, suddenly the pet relationship seems charming, as John writes that the pair always celebrated the holidays “in great style.”

Otherwise ignored, John sees each one as a special individual — even as friends; perhaps because he goes about his daily routine of work, followed by a humble meal at home by himself. John doesn’t do his job well for recognition, but simply because it is the right thing to do. 

Unfortunately the care and time he puts into his cases are “too slow” for the city, and they lay him off in order to cut costs. His smug boss, however, allows John to finish one last case: William Stoke, who incidentally lived in the apartment building across from John’s. Being the last case, John is determined to find someone to attend the funeral. He sets off on a journey that becomes personal as he learns about William Stoke’s life and meets his daughter, played by the delightful Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey).

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Although there are sections of the film where the dialogue is sparse, the storytelling is masterful with its keen visuals, gorgeous art direction, and Marsan’s superb talents. Marsan (Ray Donovan, Sherlock Holmes, The World’s End) is absolutely endearing with his twinkling eyes and subtle mannerisms that speak volumes. He somehow even makes John’s organizing look interesting. More importantly, he truly carries the film and gives it immense heart.

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In line with the title, director Uberto Pasolini (Machan) captures the beauty of ordinary things. As John looks around the apartments of the deceased, shots of mundane objects, like junky keepsakes, hanging stockings, or a pillow that still has an indent in it, evoke backstories for these people.

If no family member wants the old photos, John keeps one from the group and carefully places it in a photo album, making sure his/her memory is somehow preserved. In a heartbreaking and exquisite sequence, the audience sees a montage of different photos from John’s old cases of otherwise forgotten people from all walks of life, from flimsy ID photos to sepia-tinged portraits.

Composer Rachel Portman (Emma, Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) adds her magic with a lovely score that perfectly captures the bittersweet tone of the film: wistful, uplifting, and representative of the gentle nobility of John May.

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While it sounds like a dour film, it really isn’t. Admittedly, Still Life takes some dark turns, dealing with death, loneliness, and regrets; but it also celebrates the value of each person’s life, even if they were not model citizens or deemed successes by our modern culture. It’s a warm and heartfelt movie that mingles melancholy with several humorous and sweet scenes. Instead of handling death melodramatically, it leads to sincere, thought-provoking ideas such as community, connection, character, and the legacy one leaves behind.

Still Life moves at an understated, graceful pace, but it is never boring — a remarkable watch right up until the film’s final brilliant moments.