A humble man with a heart

STILL LIFE 2013, Eddie Marsan as John May

It was a Monday in the beginning of April this year and I had an appointment with my dental hygienist the very same morning. It turned out to be a meeting including more than a cleaning of teeth, but resulting in an X-ray on one movable tooth. That inquired a dentist to join us in the room to decide about a treatment. She told me she would make an assessment for me. Because the X-ray showed I had an inflammation at the tooth root and therefore I must come back for remove the tooth and reconstruct my partial denture.There were no other options.

It meant it would not come cheap. So in a blink my summer plans for a trip abroad ran away easy like sand between fingers. The tax refund I receive every summer would this year go to dental care – and not one penny for tribute!

I knew even as the travel was off, I would get problems to pay the upcoming treatments. I knew too this kind of inflammation can’t be ignored but must be treated, not to put a serious danger to my body and health. I felt like crying biking home. But I didn’t. I knew I had to write my friend telling her I couldn’t see her as planned. But I didn’t. And I haven’t yet.

If you live as poor in a welfare society, you seemingly have a life equal to all others around. Especially in Sweden there, for example, dental care costs only one tenth of what it would cost in, for example, the United States. So it can take weeks or even years before you become brutally confronted with your true poverty (again). All the same, you will feel the same humiliation and shame over the shortcomings in your life conditions as if you were living in some terrible slum exposed to hard neediness every day. You will feel like crap, fact stripped naked: you are poor and lonely and you cannot even afford simple dental care.

So you get better close your mouth then!

If you feel alone in a welfare society, you share your vulnerability with many others. Many more than you ever can imagine, as though having friends and work and family bounds people can carry the burden of feeling alienated.

In my opinion, it’s simply a soul thing as I believe the human species are born with this talent to experience loneliness. As well as the talent to save body fat, the longing for togetherness and gather in groups is a tool for survival of our species. Back in the beginning of our time.

From my social and economic position, I despise such complaints about feeling alone. These people who have a good economy and family and friends have no idea what real loneliness is, that’s my emotional reaction. Of course I know I’m wrong! But sadly, no one is free from patronize others. Not me either.

So – in a modern society, loneliness is the most widespread of suffering. But sharing a sickness like that one will not make you feel better. Like wildlife animals in nature we hide our weaknesses.

In a modern society we mostly respect others freedom and avoid to violate their integrity. If your neighbor seems to loathe the company of others, we let him do so without interventions.

If you live poor in a welfare society and are old or unemployed, you will probably be living alone too and if one day, while sitting in your chair at home your heart would stop, no one would know.

In a modern society you can live a whole life without meeting anyone else but a neighbor at the stairs or a cashier at the supermarket there you buy your daily bread. You say “thank you” or ‘”good morning”, and that’s all to it and it’s perfectly alright. No saber toothed tiger will hunt you for dinner because of your for a moment exposed unprotected position.

If you live alone in a welfare society without any social contacts – whatever might be – you will die as alone as you have lived and may lie dead in your apartment during a long time. Your flat becomes your grave. Because if you in that situation have had any kind of pension or income and have arranged with your bank that rent, electricity and other fixed fees being paid by direct debit, it may take many years before your remnants are discovered.

The neighbors might complain about the smell from your apartment and complain to the landlord. The landlord – or debt collectors – will with police assistance break into your home.

Joyce Carol Vincent

This was the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, who lay dead in her bedsit in a rental London apartment for three years with the television still playing and the window ajar. She died alone in December 2003 and was discovered firstly in 2006 as representatives of the landlord forced themselves into her home. This, because her rents was only partly paid and over time had raised a debt for about $ 2400 (or something like that, I don’t remember).

As she hadn’t respond to reminding letters, the landlord now claimed back the apartment. And that’s how her remains were found. It was not much left of her body – this once so beautiful woman who died at the young age 38 – so it was not possible to state cause of death.

Uncomfortable with such a sad thing can happen to someone, the film producer Carol Morley made a documentary about Joyce’s life. It’s called “Dreams of a life” (2011). I have not seen this documentary – yet.

But I came to know about this documentary because it was mentioned in a review I read about another movie, “Still Life” by Uberto Pasolino. I watched this movie the same evening I had been to the dentist, that day when my mood went underground for long time.

Such a day you would might need a “feel good movie”, like for example “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Love actually” or “Amélie” or “Singing in the rain” – or whatever you can think of… this, to cure your low mood? But I choose to watch “Still life”! Maybe I’m crazy, but the following weeks I watched it over and again. And the other night it was on TV again and I watched it once again – for the fifth time now!

Uberto Pasolini Still Life in Venice

It’s a slow movie and very touching which require a lot of the viewer. But it’s perfectly made in all its details. I love for that guy who made it, the film director Uberto for Pasolini!

It’s a story about the lonely Mr. John May being sacked from his job as a lower social servant. Mr. May is a man who has dedicated his life to give people who dies alone a dignified end by trying to find relatives to the diseased, going through remaining belongings, arranging appropriate funerals, writing a speech for the priest to read – and often to be the only present guest at the funeral. And then last closing the actual act and place the folder in the archive for finished cases.

As said I have watched the movie several times and I have furthermore read reviews and interviews and listening to soundtrack on Youtube videos and searched images. That was the easy part, to be enchanted by this movie. But it  has been very difficult to write an entry about it. It has taken me almost a month!

It did not make me happier to watch this movie but it has a catharsis effect, that kind that’ll get you in balance. This good pleasing effect vanished a bit when I began to read reviews of the movie in papers online. Actually some critics reminded me of Mr. May’s callous boss Mr. Pratchett, as complaining over the telling style “challenges the tear duct” and the tempo and the choice of topic! Mr. May, namely. Loners are stigmatized even as fiction characters!

The final scenes with a supernatural theme also make some critics irritated and distanced them to the film. I have no believes in such but I think in this context it has a function. It’s a picturing recalling to earlier scenes in the movie showing Mr. Mays highly private hobby to save the images of his former clients in an album at home. He has showed them respect and kept them  – and in the final scene they honor him for it: even a lowly and anonymous life is meaningful and deserves respect. It’s tragic people patronize lonely people’s lives, and so do film critics – even over a fictional character as in this brave movie, example:

May, who spends Still Life as a quiet acquaintance of the dead, never had any real friends; he was a hero only by being a ghost in his own life story.

I will pee on your car, Mister who wrote that!

Well, it is a very touching and intimate story, that’s clear. Nothing for those who flees in high speed from that little life that strongly affects the embarrassing stuff we hide from others eyes. The vulnerable, you know!

The title “Still life” is a poetic playing with different possible meanings. That is more useful to do in Swedish as being more ambiguous, having about half the number of words against the English language. It’s nice to see this is possible in English too!

And the film is full of such intricate details. In his work Mr. May meet the young nonchalant morgue servant spending time on crosswords. The young guy asks Mr. May about tricky ones to solve and Mr. May have the answers, no pondering. The young man tell him  “your wasted here”, “mastermind”… “Flightless birds, four letters?” “Dodo”, Mr. May tell without any hesitation.

Dodo is an extinct bird who could not fly. How did he know? Mr. May was truly a mastermind. Still there were no books in his home, except for his photo album.

The movie is from 2013 and made by the Italian film director Uberto Pasolini. Eddie Marsan makes a fantastic interpretation of the character John May. Soundtrack: Nathalie Portman. Director of photography: Stefano Falivene.

If you want to read more about this subject:

And I recommend the interview by Jakub Michalik in this blog entry: Pasolini tells about what inspired him to do this film:


Jakub Michalik ending question in the interview: Would you say it’s a movie about something that is motionless, dead and still or about something that still exists and does not end with death?

Pasolini answers (it’s an answer too long to quote, I know – but I do it anyway, sorry):

You can read it in different ways. For me this is about life, not death – about the need to engage with other people and to remain alive by engaging with other people’s lives. It’s about recognizing other people’s lives, which is what the central character does. What he wants to do, when he collects those little things in people’s apartments and writes the eulogies, is reminding the world, which is not listening, that this person had a life which has to be recognized before it’s forgotten forever. One of the things that is really important is that he is not a sad character. He’s a bit different from us, we might wish that his life was more complex, we like the idea that his life is opening out. There is a change in him and he appreciates that but he’s not sad about his old loneliness, he doesn’t feel lonely – he’s solitary, but not lonely. It was very important that the audience didn’t feel pity for him. We shouldn’t judge it on our notion of a successful life and in the same way we shouldn’t judge the life of his neighbor. He did end his life sadly, but he had also lived a life, he had children, he had love affairs, he saved somebody from dying in a war, he was a good friend. Recognize other people’s lives and don’t judge them too much. They’re still lives. They’re as good as yours.

STILL LIFE, director Uberto Pasolini (center), cinematographer Stefano Falivene (far right), 2013

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