In Title Matchup we pit two films with the exact same title against each other to see which comes out on top. Today’s versus match is between Jia Zhangke’s Still Life (2006) and Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life (2013).
Still Life (2006)
A popular figure on the international festival circuit, acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke has firmly established himself as one of Asia’s finest directors working today. Still Life (2006), one of his best regarded works, stars long-time collaborator Zhao Tao and tells two disconnected stories of people searching for their respective spouses in the director’s homeland of China. One story centres on Han (Han Sanming), who goes to Fengjie to try and locate his estranged wife of sixteen years, and the other focuses on Shen Hong (Zhao), a nurse searching for her businessman husband who left home two years prior. As with most of Jia’s work, the film shines a spotlight on contemporary China and examines how its ever-changing landscape has affected the lives of its citizens. The slow, restraint pacing may test the patience of some, but this is mature, profound storytelling. For those who’ve never seen a Jia picture before, this is a great entry point – and Zhao is magnetic as always.
Still Life (2013)
This sombre but occasionally charming little tale from Italian director Uberto Pasolini (perhaps best known for producing The Full Monty) stars Eddie Marsan as John May, a shy, reclusive council worker who’s employed to track down the relatives of those who’ve recently died alone. Facing redundancy, the determined Mr. May embarks on one final case in which he attempts to contact the daughter (Joanne Froggatt) of his now deceased alcoholic neighbour. Still Life (2013) is an undoubtedly gentle if slight British drama that doesn’t break any barriers but is amiable nevertheless. Marsan, with his delicate round face, gives a nuanced performance as the lead and Froggatt provides some much needed light in a small but significant role. Admirably, though questionably, the movie skips on a conventional uplifting ending in favour of something grander and a bit more plaintive. This outcome may ultimately split viewers, with some deeming it eye-rollingly sentimental, but it’s an arguably fitting ending for our downbeat hero.
Pasolini’s Still Life isn’t completely without its positives, but as an unabashed Jia Zhangke fan, I’m afraid to say this isn’t really much of a contest. Jia’s Still Life all the way.
Winner: Still Life (2006)