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LIVING (2022, GBR) – 9/10

I’m not really a fan of remakes and recycling content that I’ve already seen, but now and then something comes up that makes me have to swallow everything I’ve said and written on the subject before. This is one of those examples, and the remake of Akira Kurosawa’s legendary film “Ikiru” from 1952, based on the screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, directed by the South African Oliver Hermanus (the excellent predecessor of Moffie) is a real delight. More than a movie, an impressive drama for reflection, which is perfectly rounded off by the performance of the fantastic British actor Bill Nighy, who earned his first Oscar nomination for the performance of an old bureaucrat who learns that he has six months left to live.

Ishiguro is a Japanese writer who has lived in England since childhood, a Nobel laureate whose novel “Remains of the Day” was used by James Ivory to make his probably most famous film. The way Ishiguro transferred the story from post-war Japan to post-war England, adapted it to the new environment, and left the essentials almost identical is miraculous. And while in “Ikiro” the main character of the bureaucrat who spent his entire working life listlessly in Tokyo’s planning department was Mr. Watanabe, performed by Takashi Shimura, Nighy is Mr. Williams. And he’s a guy who seems like that typical British slave of habit without a drop of blood in him, a lonely widower who lives with his son and daughter-in-law in a place outside London.

And every day is the same for him, we see in the ingenious introduction when the army of those identical faceless bureaucrats pours into London on the morning train, sit down in their offices and wait for their working day to pass. The horrors of bureaucracy here are brought to the point of absurdity, and in comparison to what the British were going through in the late forties or early fifties, even the well-known Croatian bureaucracy seems extremely effective. Williams is the head of the planning department, and he and his subordinates, just like the employees of the other departments in the recognizable British style, completely drive people who need something crazy. They send them from one department to another, endlessly spinning in a circle, and when it turns out that people have visited all the departments, their requests are just put on a pile that is no longer touched.

No one jumps out, everyone dresses and behaves identically, there is not much excitement, and only when he receives a diagnosis from his doctor that he is in the terminal stage of cancer, old Mr. Williams will decide to change his life. Completely absurd, only when he realizes that he is dying and that his days are numbered, will he decide to live and behave completely differently from what he has been doing all his life. When “Ikiru” appeared, it was a film that took place in the present and it was a perfect critique of post-war Japan and a film that was completely different in spirit and aesthetics from everything that Kurosawa later made. “Living” takes place in the same period, but now we look at that era somewhat sentimentally, with nostalgia, and Hermanus shot his film in an archaic style.

All that austerity, conservatism and strictness in following the unwritten social norms that everyone adheres to in the British society of the time may seem ridiculous from today’s perspective. Nighy is a genius as the prototype of that society, a man who has long since resigned himself to the fate of having spent his whole life doing pointless and useless work, or rather trying to do nothing. That’s why his transformation is all the greater once he starts doing the opposite of what he was doing before the diagnosis. Just like “Ikiru” and “Living” it is a masterful existentialist humorous drama, a very special, deep, humanistic film that seems to think about what it means to be human at all?

Is the man the one who hides all his life behind a mountain of paper like Williams, resigned to the fact that his existence is meaningless and pointless just like his job, which he never really tried to do as it should? Or is a man the one who, at least once, steps out of his comfort zone, decides to do something completely different from what he has done up to that point? Only when he realizes that he is dying, Williams seems to realize that he has nothing left to lose and will start to behave completely differently, to be a different man, free. The man he may have always wanted to be, but he was afraid to jump off the beaten path, to jump out and try to put his back in order to make a difference. “Living” is a great humanist humorous drama, an impressive, deep and warm film that leaves a lot to think about.