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Living DVD Review

Living DVD Review

Transporting Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Japanese classic Ikiru to 1950s London, Living tells the story of aging civil servant Rodney Williams (Bill Nighy) after he discovers he is suffering from terminal cancer. Anxious to live the few months he has left as fully as possible, but – being a lifelong, dyed in the wool bureaucrat – not having the foggiest clue how to start, he turns to his vibrant young ex-colleague Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood) for help.

Living is a luxuriant period production, shot in a nostalgic 1.48:1 aspect ratio (the same as Ikiru), and scored with a classical extravagance by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch. Cinematographer Jamie Ramsay imbues the film with a fresh, morning light, reflecting the melancholic splendour of a man recognising the beauty in the world just as he’s about to leave it. It is a beautifully packaged, ‘every-frame-a-painting’ kind of movie, constructed with a glowy, sentimental elegance.

And that can get a little stifling, at times. Helmer Oliver Hermanus has a tendency toward overdirecting, often needlessly positioning his actors off-kilter in the boxy frame in a way that distracts from their performances. One might hope that the film’s formal rigour would loosen up as Rodney’s attitude towards life does, yet it remains tightly immaculate in its construction throughout the entire duration. Though there are more fluid stylistic tricks that work well – the conceit of having Nighy’s recollections rush towards the camera as he gets lost in a haze of nostalgia is an effective, touching one – they’re swamped by Hermanus’ insistence on precision and refinement at all costs. That Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay is surprisingly low on conversation scenes, depicting various sequences through montage rather than dialogue, adds to the film’s overall sense of tasteful remove.

Still, Living has Ishiguro to thank for its greatest weapon. It was he who got the whole project off the ground in the first place, always envisioning Nighy in the lead (he pitched the idea straight to him during an unexpected shared cab ride), and it is a perfect role for an actor so expert at underplaying. Whilst the movie’s overpowering elegance threatens to drown out the small-scale honesty of his performance on occasion, for the most part he remains commanding in his deeply-felt introspection. It doesfeel like the part he was born to play, and the awards attention is certainly not unwarranted.

By far and away the highlights of Living are the moments shared between Nighy and Aimee Lou Wood – the latter a relative newcomer who more than holds her own against the screen veteran. Though ‘vivid young woman helps crusty old man see the life anew’ is undeniably a cliche, they play their scenes without a false note, letting us believe – at least for a little while – that it’s an entirely fresh dynamic. The two became great friends on set and it shows; above any other single element, it’s their palpable affection for each other that brings Living to life.


Lionsgate presents Living on digital 3 March and Blu-ray & DVD 13 March 2023

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