Friday 10 May 2019

"Dead Good" (Guardian 10/05/19)

Dead Good ***
Dir: Rehana Rose. Documentary with Cara Mair, Sarah Clarke-Kent. 78 mins. Cert: PG

There will be no better tagline this year: “Several people died during the making of this film.” It’s true to the spirit of a documentary attempting to loosen up the centuries-old strictures set in place around the grave business of saying a final goodbye to loved ones. We’re introduced to Cara and Sarah, two heroically relaxed funeral directors, far from the death industry’s usual terse image; to their clients, who arrive looking for something more than the standard combination of hymns and tears; and, in passing, to Peter, a sage parish priest clad in shorts and beanie hat, who confesses to keeping his own funeral plans in a file marked with a skull-and-crossbones. It may come as little-to-no surprise to some that director Rehana Rose encountered her freethinking subjects in and around Brighton.

Which is only to note how Rose leads us gently, and with obvious directorial empathy, into surprising and enlightening areas. Take Cara and Sarah’s enviably airy office, for one, more redolent of a web start-up than anywhere traditionally associated with laying out the dead, or the unexpected briefing Cara offers there on the ins-and-outs of embalming. Rose fashions one visual highlight from the diverse caskets her undertakers carry out of camper vans and double-decker buses: you may not personally want to take your leave in the leopardprint coffin that suggests the final resting place of Birds of a Feather’s Dorian, but the point would be that there’s no reason why such options shouldn’t be available to you. It is, after all, your funeral.

Levering open several doors within a previously closed shop, Rose’s respectfully framed scenes of the living communing with the dead aren't trampling on taboos so much as turning them over in search of some new line of approach. If there’s a limitation, it’s that these feel like highly localised case studies: most consumers will still be popping down the Co-Op when the bell tolls, and a more direct contrast between one set of arrangements and another could have been instructive. Still, as Cara insists: “People look at us as freaks – but the tide is turning.” Considerable human interest here – and adventurous programmers should be alerted: it’d make an apt double-bill with Almost Heaven, Carol Salter’s excellent 2017 doc on the time-honoured formality of Chinese funeral rites.

Dead Good opens in selected cinemas from today.

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