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Living Is All About Dying With  Pride





Starring Bill Nighy, directed  by  Oliver Hermanus

Rating: ****

Living is  more about dying in peace. At least that’s what it seems  like for our protagonist Rodney Williams played by Bill Nighy who is one of Britain’s  finest actors who  is  himself lodged in the winter  of his existence, just like the character he plays.

Nighy’s  feeling of identification with his character  Williams must have been extremely high. It shows in the way  the character and the actor merge,seamlessly, without fuss .

Yes, Nighy owns  his  role. Which is  half the battle won for South African director Oliver Hermanus who grew up  in a  state  of isolation in his own country. Two of his most remarkable  and haunting feature films Beauty and Moffie are about queer segregation .

Living is  about isolation in one’s own community and  family.Set in London and ensconced in bleakness it nonetheless  keeps spirits  high even as  its protagonist’s flesh proves weak.  It’s not that Williams’ son and daughter-in-law don’t care for him. It’s just that they want a life of their own apart  from the patriarch.

Some  early scenes  showing Williams alone in the  living room(living,get it?) while his son whispers with his wife in their bedroom , immediately establish Williams’ isolation in his  immediate family.

 Then  comes the being medical revelation. Williams  is  dying.  Remarkably there is no  room for sentimentality in this portrait of a modern family tragedy . The  bond that Williams forms with one of his bureaucratic junior  colleagues Margaret(Aimee Lou Wood) is  more Graham  Greene than Leo Tolstoy.

Living written   by one of Japan’s  literary  icons   Kazuo Ishiguro, claims  to be  inspired by a short  novel of  Tolstoy,which it probably is . But  the lonely Williams’  growing need tethering on  desperation, to be with  Margaret is  very much an area  occupied  by  Greene’s fiction, except that Williams’ loneliness doesn’t spread itself into any substantial loss to his dignity.

There is  a memorable  encounter after Williams’ death between his  son and  Margaret where the son wants to know  how she knew about the old man’s terminal illness whilst the son didn’t. It’s not a question with any easy answers. Aimee Lou Wood’s silence says it all.

This is  film that values understatement. It keeps mum when there is no need  to talk.And yes, just because Bill Nighy is such a  great  actor, it doesn’t mean that the  narrative relies blindly on him for efficacy.

Halfway  through, Williams exits the  plot. The rest of this  gentle elegiacal  film is about bringing Williams’ dream to  fruition.Living ends  with a montage  of  Williams on a children’s swing in a park singing  a Scottish folk song  ‘The Rowan Tree’ so feelingly  that you wonder whom to  congratulate  for the  performance: Nighy  or Williams.

 Declared as  based on Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, there is flavor of Kurusawa’s Roshomon in the way Williams’ office colleague Wakeling(Alex Sharp)   tries to piece together the dead man’s life. Really, it can’t get any more enigmatic , pragmatic and  humanistic  than this.

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