Director: Oliver Hermanus
Had I seen it when it came out, Living would have been my favorite film of 2022, above only a handful of others that were even close: Marcel the Shell, The Whale, Women Talking. As it is, I’m sad that I missed it, that it didn’t catch my attention, and that it went past so many others without being noticed more, because it is absolutely something special. Bill Nighy did receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his leading role, so that’s some relief, but I sure wish I had championed this film at the time, because its filmmakers, cast, and crew deserve the world.
Mr. Williams, the head of a very boring department in London that oversees public works in the city, has lived the same tedious and meaningless existence for many years, shuffling papers and avoiding responsibility in a ridiculous theatre of bureaucracy. But a recent terminal illness diagnosis has him rethinking his life, particularly how he would like to spend his last days, and what mark he’d like to leave on the world. A budding friendship with a young woman who is full of good humor helps focus his concentration on what matters; being able to say, when you die, that you have lived.
First, this is a remake of a Kurosawa film, done in the 50s, and this one is set in the 50s only in England this time, so similar but different. However, the way the film begins transports you back to that time, it breathes that classic air, and it always feels like something old, not something new. I mean that in a good way, of course; classic, timeless, throwback, whatever word you want to use, this film inhabits a very special world where amazing cinema lives on abundantly. The incredible music throughout, the wonderfully honest performances, the very English way of conversing in pleasantries, the sadness of looking at the end of one’s days, the delight in the possibilities of life around us; Living is what movies are made for, this is the reason we watch. Nighy is brilliant as Mr. Williams, Wood is so perfect as Ms. Harris, and their relationship is so pure, so refreshing, so gentle, that you want to be embraced by it forever. I can’t say enough about this film, it won’t be enough to describe what it did right; this is what the best of a year feels like, brave and pleasant and emotional and clever, and ultimately beautiful.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★