If I’d seen Living (opening Jan. 13 at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood) a week or two sooner it would have immediately vaulted to the top of last year’s favorites list. Instead, it starts out 2023 in pole position for this year’s list, raising the question: How did a film this good get held back for a January release?
A ‘50s period piece based on Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), Living stars Ben Nighy as Mr. Williams (his first name is never revealed), a civil servant employed in London County Council’s Public Works department. Williams has been pushing papers since dinosaurs roamed the earth and is respected and feared by his colleagues, including about-to-depart for-a-better-job Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) and wet-behind-the-ears-newcomer Wakeling (Alex Sharp), who’s keen to get on the old man’s good side.
Williams is as reliable as the proverbial clockwork, so it comes as a surprise one day when he simply doesn’t show up for work. And as further days pass — and Williams continues to remain absent — concern grows amongst his office mates. Eventually, unctuous second-in-command Middleton (Adrian Rawlins) temporarily takes the reins.
Williams’ absence is due to his receipt of some very bad medical news — he has no more than six months to live. Emotionally unable to share the news with his son and daughter-in-law (with whom he lives), he instead opens up to Miss Harris, who he encounters in her new role waiting tables at a Lyons’ Cornerhouse (it’s not the job she anticipated, but it is the job she got). The unlikely couple dine together, go to the pictures, and become the subject of tasteless rumors before Williams eventually returns to the office, intent on doing one last good deed for his fellow Londoners.
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro, directed by Oliver Hermanus, and shot in good old-fashioned academy ratio by Jamie Ramsay, Living provides one of Britain’s greatest actors another opportunity to show off his skills. Impeccably dressed in pinstripe suit and bowler, Nighy is every inch the stereotypical repressed Englishman, barely able to betray the slightest emotion and uncomfortable making waves at work, where his inbox remains skyscraper high thanks to his mantra “we can keep it here — there’s no harm.”
Living depicts the L.C.C . as a hidebound bureaucracy where inertia and buck-passing rule the day — at least, until one man decides he can actually make a difference. It’s a pitch perfect little drama that moved me deeply — I’m not ashamed to admit I was gushing by the final credit crawl — and is deserving of much better than a January opening. Don’t miss it.
Beating Superbugs Better, an advocacy documentary from Berkeley-based Recombinant Films currently streaming on Vimeo, Google Play, TUBI TV and YouTube, focuses on the war against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Somewhat surprisingly, the film offers more than bad news (though there’s also plenty of that), suggesting there are ways for humankind to beat back bad bacteria. I learned a lot — especially about phages — and while I’m skeptical of the film’s conclusion (suggesting the problem can be resolved within capitalism), it was a pleasure to experience a documentary with an upbeat outlook.